So far there have been, or there are under way, four attempts to create a semi-autonomous, autonomous or even autocephalous Local Orthodox Church in the British Isles and Ireland. These attempts have been or are, for various reasons which we shall look at below, doomed to failure. This is why these attempts have never advanced further than fantasies. For example, there has even been basic ignorance of the name for such a future Church by foreign bishops. Some of them do not understand that the term ‘Great Britain and Ireland’ excludes the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands etc. Others even refuse to understand that the term ‘the British Isles’ excludes Ireland. Yet others have no concept of the countries which make up Western Europe. Basic geographical and historical ignorance appear to be commonplace. How will a semi-autonomous Church of the Isles (a possible reality, but only as part of a future Autocephalous Church of Western Europe) NOT be created? Let us look at the four tried and failed models.
- The Elitist Model
Already in the 1970s, as I remember well, there was an attempt to create an independent, in fact, semi-Orthodox, Church. This was a Parisian model, as its origin was among Saint Petersburg aristocrats in exile there. It was supported, at most, by a few hundred generally rather effete, upper-class and disincarnate intellectuals, who followed almost Buddhist or Hindu guru personality cults and pursued a pseudo-mystical, esoteric ‘Way’. The ethos was clearly ecumenical and modernistic, without roots in the Christian Tradition. This was not surprising as the original Saint Petersburg aristocrats had lived far from the Church, being more interested in philosophy than in Christ. This attempt failed because it was personality-driven, so disincarnate and abstract that it even dismissed ordinary people. Indeed, in 1975, one of its leading ideologues actually told me that ‘there is no such thing as ordinary people’!
- The Establishment Model
This model was put forward in the 1990s by Anglicans and ex-Anglicans, who were nostalgic for the Anglican Establishment. Only formally Orthodox, as they had been received into Orthodox Christianity without training or preparation, they wanted a clericalist ‘British Orthodox Church’, that is, an imitation of State-run Anglicanism. This ignored the reality that the mass of Orthodox Christians in the British Isles and Ireland are Eastern European immigrants who have nothing in common with the British and Anglican Establishment, as nor for that matter do most native Orthodox. This attempt failed because it was not interested in Holiness, but in the British State and the worldly advantages which that State could offer. It was a top-down project of the clericalist few over the people.
- The Ethnic Model
This is the present Phanariot model, with bishops in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. This model is intent on becoming a racially exclusive sub-department of the Vatican, designed only for Greeks and people who want to be ‘Greeks’. Lacking an Orthodox Christian and so multinational ethos, it is based on compromises which reduce the Christian Faith to a nationalist project.
- The Psychological Model
This refers to escapist forms of Christianity from somewhere else and from sometime else. It appeals to those who from insecurity or an inferiority complex need to cling to and act out something different, making it into an exclusive and self-justifying ideology. It seems to forget that Orthodox Christianity was never exclusive, but the faith of illiterate Galilean fishermen, who became the apostles through the Holy Spirit, not through illusions. The psychological model is intensely delusional, narrow, rigid, arrogant, pharisaical, bureaucratic and psychological, if not psychopathological. It can attract extremists attached to ultra-conservative ideologies, even, as recently, two Nazis, who were received into the Church through extreme naivety. This model is anti-local, anti-now, anti-missionary and anti-Holy Spirit.
All these attempts have failed or will fail. Why?
The Elitist Model failed because it proclaims that the Church is not One, but is esoteric.
The Establishment Model failed because it denies Holiness, replacing it with a version of the purely manmade British Establishment.
The Ethnic Model will fail because it denies the Catholicity of the Church, limiting Her to one ethnic group.
The Psychological Model will fail because it denies the Apostolicity of the Church, limiting Her to one type of unhealthy human psychology.
What are the criteria for a Local Church? Any new Local Church must be:
One – united, not divisive.
Holy – putting the Kingdom of God above all the kingdoms of men.
Catholic – part of the universal Church.
Apostolic – faithful to the Apostolic Tradition.
Any Local Church must keep the Faith, but also be open, as She is both Local and Universal.