There are surely many suggestions as to how the Orthodox Church can move forward out of its present state of crisis. We recall that this crisis is essentially one of disputed and also discredited authority, especially of the post-Cretan Patriarchate of Constantinople and of the post-Ukrainian Operation Patriarchate of Moscow. So many of their acts that have been ostensibly justified by the ‘canons’ have in fact been purely political acts and thus are anti-canonical. Therefore, this is a crisis of division. I have little confidence that the following suggestions will be heard, let alone acted on. But still I dare to make them, if only for the record, as one set of solutions among others put forward from the grassroots.
Three Recent Autocephalous Churches
The post-1917 Russian Orthodox Church gradually recognised that the fall of the Russian Empire, the consequent reconstruction of Poland and the inability to care for the pre-Revolutionary mission in North America, meant that new Autocephalous Churches would have to be established there. Thus, there came into being the Polish Orthodox Church (1924 and 1948) and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) (1970). As a result of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, there also came into being the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia (1951). The first and the last of these Churches, though quite small, have undisputed territories and have been revitalised by the recent arrival of many Ukrainian refugees.
However, the vaguely-named ‘OCA’ (where is America?), founded in 1970, has had many difficulties which have undermined its authority, both moral and financial. Moreover, although it is heir to the original and undivided Church in Northern America, it exists today on a shared territory and the much larger Archdiocese of the Church of Constantinople does not recognise it. As a result, the OCA has remained smaller than the Church of Poland and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Perhaps it could be revitalised by the Mother-Church in Moscow which could add to its Moscow’s now bishopless parishes in Northern America? And perhaps it could be renamed more accurately as the ‘Northern American Orthodox Church’ (NAOC)? (The term Northern America means the USA, Canada and Greenland and a couple of islands, so that Mexico and the Caribbean are excluded from its territory). The NAOC should move towards having Greek, Serbian and native-born bishops, who are therefore truly representative of the new Local Church. Only in this way could the flocks of other Local Orthodox Churches be drawn to take part.
Four Future Autocephalous Churches
Over thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union and its division into fifteen separate States, and following the conflict between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine and the refusal of many to commemorate the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, it is clear that a new wave of Autocephalies needs to take place. The parallel between the fall of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union should be clear to all. Ecclesiastical decentralisation must follow on from political decentralisation.
We suggest that four new Autocephalous Churches may need to be founded by the Mother-Church in countries where there are large numbers of Orthodox, but where the main language is not Russian. As all of these areas have at least four bishops (the minimum number for Autocephaly), this is quite realistic. This would bring the total number of Local Orthodox Churches, counting those of North Macedonia and the above NAOC, from sixteen to twenty. In order of size, these would be:
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church. 18 million? This would look after all Orthodox within the borders of the future Ukraine, even though the precise, permanent borders of that war-torn country are yet to be established for the moment. A genuinely Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church could at last put an end to all those nationalist Church divisions that have taken place there since 1917, including in 2018, both inside the Ukraine and in the Diaspora.
The Moldovan Orthodox Church. 4 million? This would look after all Orthodox within Moldova. An Autocephalous Church, on good terms with both the Russian and Romanian Churches, which might grant it Autocephaly together, its birth could overcome the present division there between the Russian and Romanian Patriarchates, the two largest Local Churches.
The Baltic Orthodox Church. 500,000? This would look after all Orthodox who keep the canonical date of Pascha within Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. In Lithuania clergy, defrocked for purely political reasons to the scandal of many, will need to be reinstated. As in the Ukraine and Moldova, the Baltic countries should move towards having native-born bishops, who are therefore truly representative of the new Local Church. A genuinely Autocephalous Baltic Orthodox Church could at last put an end to all those nationalist Church divisions that have taken place in all these countries since 1917, as well as the Phanariot-provoked situations in Finland and Estonia.
The Western European Orthodox Church (WEOC). 400,000? Covering the 22 ex-Catholic and ex-Protestant countries of Western, Central, Northern and Southern Europe, which have no Local Church of their own (Andorra
Austria, Belgium, British Isles, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland). This Church is based on the present Russian Orthodox Exarchate of Western Europe, but includes Germany, Scandinavia (a bishop is required here) and Austria-Hungary. New bishops are also required for France, Benelux and the British Isles and Ireland and to resolve the pastoral problems in the latter. The Western European Archdiocese of the Moscow Patriarchate would surely wish to take part in such an Autocephalous Church. As in the Ukraine and Moldova, the WEOC should move towards having native-born bishops, who are therefore truly representative of the new Local Church. Only in this way could the flocks of other Local Orthodox Churches wish to take part.
Two Recent Autonomous Orthodox Churches
Rather than full independence (Autocephaly), there are smaller Churches in other countries which are dependent on their Mother-Church for their episcopate. Such Churches are known as Autonomous. The pre-Revolutionary missions in China (Autonomy granted in 1957) and Japan (Autonomy granted in 1970) are both such, although the latter hardly exists today on account of Chinese State persecution over the last 75 years.
Two Future Autonomous Orthodox Churches
The present Russian Orthodox Exarchate of South East Asia could become an Autonomous Church (SEAOC). True, for the moment it covers a huge territory. If its mission is successful, it could eventually form several Autocephalous Churches. However, before it can even become Autocephalous, it must first obtain native bishops.
The present Russian Orthodox Exarchate of Africa could become an Autonomous Church (AOC). Before it can become Autocephalous, it must obtain native bishops – and also resolve the territorial dispute with the Patriarchate of Alexandria. This could be overcome if, for example, the jurisdiction of Alexandria returned to its traditional territory of Egypt.
A Recent Exarchate
There are other regions which for various reasons do not wish or are unable to become either Autocephalous or Autonomous and may be particularly dependent on the Mother-Church. These are known as Exarchates. Thus, Belarus is established as an Exarchate within the Russian Orthodox Church.
Two Future Exarchates
There will soon need to be a Central Asian Exarchate for the ‘Five Stans’, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
There will soon need to be a Latin American Exarchate to cover South and Central America, as well as Mexico and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Two Future Missions
Missions and infrastructure for them need to be opened for two other areas of the world. These are:
Oceania – the whole, albeit sparsely-populated Continent of Australia and all the Pacific islands, where there is already some Orthodox presence. The opening of an Exarchate here would depend on the desire of local Orthodox to become a Local Church.
South Asia (The Indian Subcontinent and Indian Ocean islands), which has nearly a quarter of the world’s population, but hardly any Orthodox.
There can be no new Churches if they are not Autocephalous, that is, if they are not quite separate from and politically free of Mother-Churches. Otherwise, they are compromised and discredited. History bears this out quite clearly, both in the twentieth century and well before. Of course, all are free to take part or not in the life of new Autocephalous Churches which are located on shared territories. Some, still attached to Mother-Churches will not wish to do so. Time is all that is lacking for them. Others, with a schismatic or sectarian ‘OneTrueChurch’ Pharisee mentality, inspired by the spiritual impurity of the CIA and US-Protestant nationalist politics and not on the canons of the Orthodox Church, will not take part. But such are a tiny minority and can be ignored. The future is in new Autocephalous Churches.