Introduction: Orthodox Church Immigration to Western Europe
Since 1917 there have been three large-scale waves of immigration of Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe to Western Europe. These have been: the Russian-speaking, mainly since 1917, though in four sociologically very different generations, the Greek-speaking, mainly since 1950, and the Romanian-speaking, mainly since 2000. This latest immigration is composed of well over four million Romanians with a million and a half Moldovans, probably six million people in all. Nearly half of these now live in Italy, Spain and Portugal, since Romanian is very similar to those languages. This recent immigration dwarves all previous Orthodox immigrations to Western Europe, not just the Russian and Greek, but also the much smaller ones, like the Serbian, the Ukrainian, the Belarussian, the Macedonian, the Bulgarian, the Antiochian (Arab) and the Georgian.
The Greek-speaking (Greek and Cypriot) immigration has remained very closed to others and remains stuck in its ethnic identity, but its leaders also have very strong pro-US politics. Both these factors alienate nearly everyone else from it. It does not in general and cannot in reality attract many native Europeans to its religious practice. As regards the Romanian and Moldovan immigration, it is still too early to say whether it will attract others to it in any number, though there are some promising signs of openings to others, as a result of its youthfulness, its ten bishops, including a French one, and some Non-Romanian clergy and people. The Romanians are helped here by their Latin language and by being very open and welcoming, but the infrastructure remains weak.
The Russian Immigration
What of the oldest, most political and most complex immigration, the Russian-speaking? In four waves, this consisted of anti-Bolsheviks from pre-1917 Russia, anti-Stalinists from pre-1945 Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, those from the small, largely ethnically Jewish, dissident intellectual immigration of the 1970s and 1980s, and those from the post-USSR but still Soviet immigration, especially from the Baltic States, Kazakhstan and Moldova. These waves of immigration are sadly divided into three different and quite disjointed ‘jurisdictions’ with separate episcopates, one of which (ROCOR) since January 2021 has officially decided to be in schism with and not concelebrate with one of the others (WEA). (See below).
- The MP
Firstly, there is the largest jurisdiction, that of the Mother-Church, the Moscow-based Moscow Patriarchate (MP), which is 99% of the whole Russian Church, mostly in the ex-Soviet Union, but also has eight bishops in Western Europe. This is organised under a Paris-based Exarchate and its people come from all over the ex-Soviet Union, especially from Moldova and the Baltic States, but also from the Ukraine, though in the last two years many Ukrainians have left it to help found yet another group of over eighty quite separate new Ukrainian Orthodox communities, mainly composed of Ukrainian refugees (most of whom appear not to be baptised Orthodox – the Orthodox have stayed in the Ukraine or in Eastern Europe). This MP Exarchate has been patterned by a number of Exarchs and bishops, who have embarrassingly compromised themselves in some way or other and so have met with failure.
One of the great current problems here is the dramatic events now going on in Moscow against the background of the war in the Ukraine. Here, ‘traitors’ are being tried by Church courts. These include the once senior Metropolitan Leonid (Gorbachov), the former Exarch in Africa, who is under suspicion of various misdeeds (1). If treachery to the Russian State is the real charge, then there must also be bishops in the very divided New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) (see below) who must also be trembling. Astonishingly, several of the latter have from the outset publicly called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukraine and openly supported anti-Russian US policies and persecuted pro-Russians. If there is one thing that Russians cannot support, it is treachery.
- b) The WEA
Secondly, there is by far the smallest group, the Paris-based Western European Archdiocese (WEA) with only three bishops, whose aristocratic founders from Saint Petersburg created it in the 1920s. This elitist intellectual group is now very small outside Paris. It has either not been able, or perhaps not wanted, to take off and expand outside the intellectual group. At the present time, most believe that its often elderly leaders will die out within the next generation. Essentially it has only three church properties of its own and these are all in Paris. The death or removal of two individuals would hasten the takeover of those properties by the much larger MP and its inevitable absorption of the small remains of this group.
Thirdly, there is the New York-based ROCOR, which was formed over 100 years ago, in 1919 and has its own Synod, now of only thirteen active bishops. In Western Europe it has four bishops. By 2001 its first generation had essentially died out. Thus, in order to survive it had to reinvent itself. A few very elderly individuals, including its own Metropolitan, were expelled in what was essentially a coup d’etat. Having taken over, the new Synod, which had accepted large numbers of new immigrants from the ex-USSR, was then forced to reconcile itself with Moscow. However, it was also recruiting converts, especially in the USA. Unfortunately, it purposely recruited some very strange and right-wing extremist converts, many of whom it made priests and even bishops, putting them into oppositions of power. These now form a very powerful group and are harshly persecuting those who are Russian-speaking, pro-Russian and anti-schism.
Apart from about 150 communities, many of them very small, mainly in the USA, and about 30 communities in Australia, the other main centre of ROCOR is its 70 or so communities in Germany, where it has many historic and beautiful churches and a large flock, with both clergy and laity nearly all from the ex-USSR, especially from Kazakhstan. As well as these churches, it also has a few historic churches in Switzerland, two historic churches (recently taken from the WEA) in northern Italy and one in Brussels. Elsewhere it has virtually nothing, apart from some very small and often unstable communities, making some 300 communities in all and at least 50,000 people. It is clear that the MP is waiting to take over the historic churches in Western Europe from the declining ROCOR and add them to its Exarchate of Western Europe. The death or removal of two very divisive and very aggressive, US-trained individuals in Western Europe, who have very strong anti-Russian political backgrounds and connections, would hasten this process.
At the present time the New York Synod is very divided, not least about its heretical programme of rebaptising other Orthodox, in defiance of the teachings and practices of the Russian Church and of the whole of the Orthodox Church. Although there are three Russian bishops against a break with the MP (they have already broken with the WEA part of the MP), there are three bishops for, and the other seven are fence-sitting. We expect further events.
Conclusion: The Future
Most countries in Eastern Europe already have their own independent Local Orthodox Churches. It seems quite likely that the small Orthodox population (3% ?) from among the eleven million people of the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and from Nordic Finland, whose language is related to Estonian, will form their own Local Baltic Orthodox Church. All these Eastern European countries have strong historic Russian connections and a current Russian presence and historic churches. Similarly, Eastern European Hungary, to which Carpatho-Russian Transcarpathia and its 600 Orthodox parishes may soon return, may also obtain its own Local Orthodox Church. This is just like the Church of Czechia and Slovakia, the main part of whose traditional flock also consists of Carpatho-Russians.
This would leave a geographical West of Europe, with an eastern border stretching from Norway down to Sweden, Germany, Austria and Italy, enclosing the at present twenty-one countries of Western Europe, with its population of 400 million and area of 3.5 million square kilometres. This has a population of some 10 million nominal Orthodox, about 40 bishops and perhaps 2,000 communities. If they banded together into eight multinational dioceses and worked towards forming their own Local Orthodox Church, they would then form the fourth largest Local Orthodox Church, after the Russian, Romanian and Greek.
These eight dioceses could cover the territories of: Italia (Italy, Malta and San Marino); Iberia (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar); Germania (Germany and Austria); Gallia (France, Wallonia (Southern Belgium), Luxembourg and Monaco); The Isles (the British Isles of England, Scotland, Wales etc, as well as the island of Ireland); Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland); the Netherlands (the Netherlands plus Flanders (Northern Belgium)); Helvetia (Switzerland and Liechtenstein). The main task here would be to maintain Orthodox and their descendants in the Faith, protecting them from the surrounding ocean of ever more aggressive Western secularist atheism. However, it would also be for these dioceses to conduct missionary work among the native peoples of their territories, though in this profoundly atheist (ex-Catholic and ex-Protestant) region, the results of that work would be modest, for sadly few want real Orthodox Christianity, often preferring at best a virtual version of podcasts, internet nonsense and negativity.
The retired Metropolitan Leonid (Gorbachev) of the ROC said the upcoming trial against him will be a betrayal of the Church and Fatherland” and “all who participate in this lawlessness are traitors”.
Former African Exarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Leonid called the upcoming hearing on his case in the Supreme All-Church Court “a betrayal of the Church and the Fatherland” and said that “all those who participate in this lawlessness are traitors”. He wrote about this on his Telegram channel.
According to him, with the upcoming trial, “we have passed the line of realisation of good and evil”.
“Now everything is possible if you have uncontrolled power in your hands,” the retired bishop said, without specifying whom he meant.
The hierarch is convinced that his work in the African Exarchate was “the first breakthrough since 988,” and Gorbachev appreciates its results very highly.
The hierarch also noted that his trial benefits the Vatican and is “giving up one’s own people”, and that all those involved in it are “traitors”.
The metropolitan threatened to “provide details afterwards,” adding that he “did not want this”.