Category Archives: Pastoral Matters

Q and A: The Ascension of the Lord 2024

Orthodox Christianity Before and After the Western Schism

Q: Was England Orthodox before 1066?

A: I think the question is misleading. Firstly, how can a country be Orthodox? Only people can be Orthodox. Secondly, what do you mean by Orthodox? Jewish? If you mean Orthodox Christian, then it is true that before 1066 English people could and did make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and New Rome (Constantinople) and elsewhere in the Orthodox Christian Roman Empire, of which they were by faith a part, and Greek clergy are recorded living in England at the same time. English people could and did take communion anywhere there, their priests concelebrating.

This concerned not least the exiled refugees from England who went to live there permanently after 1066. This was because all held the same Orthodox Christian Faith, East and West, despite different rituals and customs. Of course this was true not only of the faithful in England, but more or less true of the faithful anywhere in Western Europe, even after the Year 1000. In other words, Roman Catholicism did not exist as such at that time, though its origins can be traced back to about the Year 1000 and even some aspects of it right back to the end of the eighth century under ‘Charlemagne’, who wanted to revive pagan Rome. In fact, that was exactly what his spiritual descendants did so successfully.

Q: Which Local Church will take the leadership of the Orthodox Diaspora in Western Europe?

A: I don’t know. The Greeks rejected their golden chance to prove that they really are ‘Oecumenical’ during the very long years of the Soviet captivity between 1917 and 1992. Instead, they showed that they were only ‘Ecumenical’ and so compromised and discredited themselves. Next, between 2007 and 2020, the Russians were given the same golden chance to assume the leadership of the Diaspora. And they threw their golden chance away too, into the selfsame dustbin of nationalism. It was offered to them on a plate and they rejected it, just like the Greeks before them. To quote the suicidal words of the time pronounced by a very young and spiritually untried bishop from Moscow, which he said against those who belong to other Local Churches, but which in fact he said to his own loss: ‘Too bad for their souls’. So the ship of the Church locally for now continues to be rudderless.

Apologetics

Q: Why do we pray for the monarch or government and armed forces? They are generally a bunch of crooks.

A: You forget that we are Christians and so pray for our enemies! For example, the early Orthodox prayed for suchlike as the Emperor Nero. We must pray for our persecutors. I always do it. We are Christians. We always pray for the powers that be, including the armed forces, as the Apostle Paul instructs us (‘Honour the King’), and this is so that they do not do evil.

Q: How has the word Christian become so discredited?

A: The word Christian is generally used to express Roman Catholic or Protestant, only very rarely Orthodox Christian. Instead of that term they use ‘Eastern Orthodox’, as though Christ (the Head of our Church) were some exotic oriental guru. In other words, the word ‘Christian’ has been instrumentalised and even weaponised by the powers of this world.

For example, I am (Orthodox) Christian because I reject feudalism with its serfs, massacres and inquisitions (so cannot be Roman Catholic); I reject Imperialism with its slavery and exploitation (so cannot be Protestant); I reject Capitalism with its paid serfs, kept quiet with the bread, sugar and salt of supermarkets and circuses of TV and the internet (so cannot be Secularist). So are you a Christian?

However, there are also bad clergy in every part of the supposedly Christian world. They discredit the word ‘Christian’. For example, there is in Colchester a Polish taxi-driver. He had the same job when he lived in the Church city of Krakow in Poland. His job was to transport Catholic clergy and seminarians to prostitutes. This industry was well developed there. On the other hand, we have here a very nice Roman Catholic lady from eastern Poland near the border of Belarus, whose husband is Orthodox. He refuses to go to church because the priest in his Orthodox village is a drunkard, who steals money from the church and lives a dissolute life. That this exists is nothing new; Russia had many such priests before the Revolution and there are many in the Ukraine today. The only question is why such men are ordained by bishops and then NOT defrocked. It suggests that the bishops themselves are corrupt. And I certainly know cases of this. It is all about money.

Q: What do you think of Jordan Peterson as an Orthodox missionary and ‘the surge’ towards Orthodoxy?

A: This Non-Orthodox gentleman does not lead a Church life. He preaches an ideology. However interesting it may be and however sincere it may be and however close some of it may be to Orthodox views, it is not Orthodox Christianity because it is not living Orthodoxy. Thus, over the last years or so, I have been contacted as a priest by many young men (not a single woman), between the age of 16 and 40, who claim, under the influence of Jordan Peterson, they want ‘to become Orthodox’. When I have told them that they have to attend Church services for this to happen, they immediately lose all interest. In other words, they are in love with a podcast theory, ‘internet Orthodoxy’, not the Church. This is totally different from practice and reality.

There has been no surge towards Orthodoxy at all. I must add that some of those young men were very strange individuals, narcissistic, misogynistic, family-hating, sometimes, I suspect, repressed homosexuals and sometimes downright weird. I think they live in a virtual world of the fantasy, not the real one. It appears to be a generational problem, a result of the internet, a lack of contact with reality. Podcasts are not a Christian way of life. By their fruits, ye shall judge them.

Q: Why does the Bible not mention dinosaurs?

A: For the same reason that the Bible does not mention locomotives. Both words were invented about the same time in the 19th century. The books of the Old Testament were written down over 3,000 years before that. However, the Book of Job (40, 15-24) does mention a ‘behemoth’, with an exact description of a very large dinosaur (most dinosaurs were very small according to the fossil record). Elsewhere the Bible often mentions dragons and, in all the cultures and folk-memories of the world, dragons are the old name for dinosaurs.

Q: Was the Flood local or universal?

A: This is not a dogma of the Faith, so believe as you will. Personally, I think it was universal, because every culture in the world has a flood story and because how else can you account for worldwide fossils, 95% of which are sea creatures (for example, fossils of sea creatures found on high mountains), stratification of rock, plate tectonics, or the Ice Age? And then, if it had been global, why did Noah not simply move away from the area and why did he bother to preserve the animals anyway? Personally, I cannot imagine how a geologist cannot be a Christian.

Q: When was the Earth created and how long did it take?

A: Nobody knows. The traditional Orthodox date is 7,532 years ago. You can interpret that literally or figuratively. How long did it take? Six days or six ages. No such speculations, or even certain knowledge, helps us to salvation. Do not waste your time!

The Russian Church

Q: Why does the agony of the Russian Church continue even 33 years after the fall of Communism?

A: This is because of the lack or repentance of the Russian Orthodox masses, who are baptised but untaught. Thus, in the centre of Moscow the corpse of Lenin, that forerunner of Antichrist, continues to rot in public in its ziggurat. Everywhere statues of monsters like him and the names of the murderers are recalled in metro stations, streets and whole regions. Meanwhile the relics of the Imperial Martyrs are held, the faithful barred off, in Saint Petersburg and it is impossible for the faithful to venerate them. This is spiritual captivity. Relics make miracles only when they are venerated.

Q: Why was Gregory Rasputin hated by most of the Russian emigration?

A: This was because most of the Russian emigration hated the Tsar and the Tsarina. They blamed their loss of money, position and property on the Imperial Family and all who had supported them. In the words of St John of Shanghai (and also in my experience) only about 10% of the Russian emigration were for the Tsar or went to church, and probably far fewer than 10% of the aristocracy, who had lost the most through the Revolution. Although all the emigres have died out, this attitude continues among their descendants of the second, third and fourth generations, to whom they passed on their old prejudices.

Q: Why does the West hate Russia?

A: Simply because Russia has refused to be colonised by the West. True, it has not remained entirely independent. The Russian Empire (1721-1917), the Soviet Empire (1922-1991) and Russian Capitalism (1992-2022) were all the results of Russian aping of various Western ideologies of materialism. However, this 300-year period is now over. Russia has now reverted to being a National Russia.

Q: Did you ever meet Metr Antony of Sourozh? What would he think of the present situation in the Russian Church?

A: I not only often met him quite often, but he tonsured me reader over 42 years ago, in January 1981. As regards the present, all I can say is that he must be spinning in his grave at the sight of how Sergianist politicians who think like the State have taken over the Russian Church and principles thrown out of the window. The New Martyrs and the New Confessors have been betrayed by those who prefer money and luxury and the corruption that follows from those passions.

Q: Is the schismatic American ROCOR still in communion with any other Orthodox?

A: As far as I can see, this tiny US-based group of 300 churches and small communities is now openly preaching that you must be nasty in order to be nice! This is of course psychopathic, which is what we have come to expect of the new American ROCOR. It has lost so many normal Russian Orthodox that it now consorts occasionally only with certain politically very conservative, usually ex-Protestant, members of the Antiochian Jurisdiction (200 rather wealthy churches and communities in the USA). Both have stronger links to the USA than to Europe and West Asia and actual Orthodox Tradition. Both appear to be out of communion with the huge Russian, Romanian and Greek Churches. Birds of a feather flock together.

Q and A for March 2024

The Non-Orthodox World

Q: How did you use to receive converts when you served as a priest in ROCOR?

A: The same as now! I have always obeyed the ROCOR archbishop who ordained me to the priesthood, Archbishop Antony of Geneva. He himself simply followed the pre-Revolutionary tradition which he had learned from Metr Antony (Khrapovitsky) in his youth in Serbia, which is the universal tradition of the Russian Church. So I received Catholics by confession and communion and Protestants by chrismation. This is what is done today inside Russia, for example in Lithuania and Belarus, where there are many Catholics. Those who create schisms because of this are schismatics and there is no need to follow them. To obey schism is a sin because you are cutting yourself off from the Church, which is the source of grace, the bearer of the Holy Spirit.

Q: Why was the Catholic Easter so early this year, five weeks before the Orthodox Easter?

A: This is because the Vatican (and all Protestants follow the Vatican to the letter) no longer obeys the Tradition, as expressed in the canons, that Easter must follow the Jewish Passover. (If you remember in the year of the Crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish Passover fell on the Sabbath/Saturday between His Crucifixion and the Resurrection). In 2024 the Passover begins before sunset on Monday 22 April and ends at sunset on 30 April (it lasts eight days). Therefore, the correct Easter falls on 5 May. The Vatican’s early date is nonsense.

Q: Did the Jews kill Christ?

A: No. Firstly, the Romans killed Christ, though it is true that some Jews urged the Romans to do this. Secondly, Christ Himself was a Jew in His human nature, as was His mother, the Apostles and most of the thousands of first Christians. They did not kill Christ. Those Jews who had a part of responsibility in the death of Christ in His human nature were a small minority of the Jews and they died nearly 2,000 years ago, as also their children’s children 1900 years ago. To suggest that Jews who are alive today are responsible for killing Christ is racist nonsense and also very dangerous racist nonsense.

Q: When Non-Orthodox come and want to join the Church, how do you react as a priest?

A: There are two sorts of such people: Those who want to live a Christian life and the pathological cases. The first want to attend Church services and to love their own families and their neighbour more. The second have little interest in Church services and Christian life and just want to hate others, using the Church as an excuse for their pathology. These are ‘Orthodox’ Amish. I do not receive them into the Church and never have done.

Q: What are the signs of a psychopath?

A: According to the internet, which confirms our experience, the signs are:

Lack of empathy, arrogance, excessive vanity, lack of guilt, difficulty processing other people’s facial expressions, goal-oriented behaviour and insensitivity to punishment.

To this we would add jealousy because that is what lies behind their hatred. Hatred is why it is impossible for them to be Christians, whatever they may call themselves, bishops or whatever.

Russia

Q: Why have so many people stopped attending Russian churches in recent years? In Russia, the Ukraine and Latvia, between one-quarter and three-quarters of churchgoers have disappeared from most of the churches.

A: There were two stages in this disastrous process: Covid and then the Ukraine.

In the first stage, people saw fear of illness (not fear of God) and conformism to State propaganda on the part of clergy who closed (!) their churches. In the second stage, they saw clergy not preaching the Gospel, but justifying death and destruction. Instead of pastors (the pastors were and are being ‘defrocked’!), they found State war propagandists. As a result, they concluded that if the clergy behave like this, what is the point of going to church? It is understandable.

Q: Why are there Orthodox in Russia who praise Stalin? I have even heard that some want him to be canonised?

A: All of this is pure nationalism. It is rather like elderly British people who, brainwashed by the media, consider that Churchill was some kind of saint. Yet he gassed Kurds, he was responsible for several million dead in the Bengal famine and helped to murder 500,000 German civilians. Nationalist people like him because he was the wartime leader and Britain happened to be on the winning side. So it is with Stalin. It has nothing to do with Faith, just nationalism to do with being on the winning side.

Q: What are we to think of the ‘Russian world’ ‘doctrine that is now being promulgated by certain hierarchs of the Russian Church?

A: The liberals of ‘Public Orthodoxy’ condemn this. The conservatives approve of it. Why? Because the liberals are cosmopolitans and view everything Russian, including the Russian Orthodox Tradition, as narrow, provincial and racist. They want to modernise everything and be like Protestants. The conservatives are narrow moralisers, inclined towards phariseeism, who see the identity of the Church as ethnic, look at the past and care little for pastoral matters. Few on either side mention the Gospels, the Fathers, the Saints and the New Martyrs. This is because the interest of them all is not spiritual, but secular. All of them are simply hiding behind the Church, using it as camouflage to try and justify their secular views. The key criterion is how people view the New Martyrs of Russia. You will see that the liberals have no time for the martyrs, unless they expressed liberal views before being martyred and the conservatives have no time for them, unless they expressed conservative views before being martyred.

The sad thing about all this is that certain hierarchs have not only dug themselves a hole, but they are now continuing to dig. Stop digging!

Covid

Q: Looking back, what do you think covid was really about? And the lockdowns and the vaccines?

A: First of all, covid was a real virus. People did die from it. Of course, far fewer than they said. Most, though not all, who ‘died of covid’ were already very ill or very old and covid was simply the last straw. They just lost a few days, weeks or months from the end of their lives. In Romania hospitals were paid by the EU to put ‘coronavirus’ on death certificates and any relatives who complained were paid to accept it. Of course, the lockdowns were excessive and absurd. There was no need for them, just reasonable precautions would have been enough. So many businesses and shops closed down for ever and large numbers of people lost large amounts of money. All so unnecessary and tyrannical.

The most shameful thing was that State Churches, like the Church of England – as well as many others, including Orthodox – obeyed the lockdowns! Little wonder that so many people have stopped going to such churches. It was the last nail in the coffin for hundreds of Church of England churches. As for the vaccines, at best, they seemed to have no effect and if they did, it was admitted officially that the effect only lasted a few weeks! Such a waste of money. Many of us had to accept the vaccine, for example, all who worked for the health service and in care homes (like many of our parishioners). I advised everyone to make the sign of the cross if they had to be vaccinated and had no other choice. They had to keep their jobs. They suffered no ill effects then.

As for the origin, who knows? It may have been natural and happened through lack of hygiene. However, there are some very strange coincidences. The City of Wuhan, where it all began, has a huge laboratory investigating viruses. It accepts contracts from all over the world, including from the USA. And the main US aim is to destroy China. That would explain the incredibly stern measures and lockdowns taken by the Chinese government after the leak – if it was a lab leak. If so, the whole thing backfired and spread to the West. After all, like Hitler’s scientists, the Fascist South African government of that time tried to develop vaccines to kill black people, so it would not have been the first time they tried to kill or reduce a race. But perhaps we shall never know.

I say this, not because I am a conspiracy theorist, but because I am convinced of human stupidity. In other words, the causes of covid, either a lack of hygiene or an accidental leak, have the same cause: human stupidity.

A Christmas 2023 Q and A

Q: Why is the Church so opposed to sects and sectarianism?

A: By definition, sects consist of those who have cut themselves off from the Church in schisms, because they consider that they are better than, superior to, the Church. In other words, they lack love for others, therefore, expressing hatred. How can you not be against hatred? We can see this very clearly with Protestant sects like Calvinism and Lutheranism. Always negative and doom-laden, they condemn and punish others and enjoy doing this and priggishly justify it. For example, they launched witch-hunts, murdering innocent women.

And we can see the same tendencies with the old ritualists, Greek old calendarists and Russian right-wing émigré groups, whose hatred is palpable. They love to denounce, threaten, intimidate and condemn, telling their victims that they ‘will go to hell’. Such sects always split up into new sects, instead of remaining together, and then they condemn each other to hell! What charming people! However, we should beware that sectarianism as a spirit can spread inside parts of the Church, which are not yet sects. Cutting off from others out of pride, which they call ‘walling off’, causes a lack of communion and that is one of the first and most dangerous warning signs of future sects.

Q: What in your view caused the downfall of ROCOR and does it have any future?

A: Without any doubt this was due to its growing exclusivist political ideology, which, ironically, evolved after signing the Act of Canonical Communion in Moscow in 2007. In desperate search for a self-differentiating identity to stop itself merging with the rest of the Russian Church and its missions, which was its real and inevitable destiny, the elite of ROCOR began to make out that they were the only ‘pure’ and ‘canonical’ part of the Russian Church, rebaptising all, yet all the while pretending to be in communion with it and using this mythical claim to justify themselves. And yet its Americans have openly asked Russia to withdraw its forces from the Ukraine and condemned Russia for re-creating the Russian Union of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. They are imposters, Russophobes, only secretly, behind a screen of pseudo-Russian pretence, Russian with an American accent, actually only American and in love with money. They do not think as Orthodox, but have put their American nationality above real Orthodoxy, of which they are embarrassingly ignorant.

This ideology, derived in part from extremist and poorly-educated converts from Calvinist/Lutheran/ Evangelical backgrounds, expressed ethnic hatred for non-converts and non-ultra-conservative Russians, instead of pastoral care for all. It can be said that wolves in shepherd’s clothing destroyed ROCOR. Interestingly, we refugees from the implacable neocon bullies of ROCOR and their cultish sectarian schism and love of money, received and today receive plenty of support behind the scenes from the Russian Church in Moscow, which is waiting for the conflict in the Ukraine to end in order to sort out the ROCOR schism once and for all. Only the very isolated ROCOR remains hostile and in denial. In a word, greedy and cultish sectarianism took hold of ROCOR. Catastrophe was the result.

ROCOR will eventually split into two, the authentic and pro-Russian part in Western Europe going directly under the Moscow Patriarchate, perhaps into separate deaneries, as Moscow has suggested, in North America and Australia going into a Metropolia under the now Archbishop Gabriel, who is Russian-Australian. The Anglo-American Protestant crazies will go off into some ‘True Russian Orthodox Church’ fantasy old calendarist cult and sect.

Q: In Oxford a mixed Greek-Russian-Serb parish failed, splitting into three different groups. Why does a mixed Russian-Ukrainian-Moldovan-Romanian-English parish in Colchester seem to work?

A: Splits always happen because of politics. All three groups in Oxford, and I knew them all, confessed ideologies. The Serbs were post-1945 royalist emigres who believed in restoring Serbia. When the church there was consecrated in 1973, the Serbian people never even took part, despite the presence of their bishop. As for the Greek bishops, they confessed the ideology that the whole Diaspora must submit to them. And the right-wing Russian academic parishioners, who came from wealthy or aristocratic backgrounds looked down on Greeks or Serbs who ran restaurants or worked in garages. In other words, all three groups confessed political ideologies, which prevented them from loving one another.

I have always said to our parishioners that we leave our passports at the Church door. Inside the Church we only have spiritual passports, on which are written just two words: Orthodox Christian. The rest we keep outside.

Q: Why is there a problem with converts in the Church?

A: Converts generally represent zeal without knowledge. This is unlike cradle Orthodox, who often represent knowledge without zeal. Only when zeal and knowledge come together, is there wisdom, that is, discernment. The Church needs both and above all wisdom. In other words, the problem with converts is only if they remain converts, failing to channel their zeal and so integrating the Church.

Q: Is Orthodoxy the same as conservatism?

A: Most definitely not. The last Tsar developed a system of free education, healthcare and labour protection. These were the achievements of Imperial Russia, despite the fact that the Communists tried to take credit for them, just as they tried to take credit for industrialisation and electrification. Today President Putin also stands for social justice in the same way. And all Orthodox peoples desire this. The Orthodox way is very different from conservative right-wingery, which is represented by oligarchs who are the Western elitist way. Read how the first Orthodox lived in the Acts of the Apostles. No capitalism there!

Conservatism in itself is not necessarily Christian at all. For example, it very quickly develops into moralism and then phariseeism. That is not Christian. Christians condemn the sin, but love the sinner. Thus, it is fine to be against abortion, but do you treat pregnant mothers who have been deserted by the father of their baby with compassion and understanding or not? Pure conservatives condemn them because they want to justify themselves and feel their hearts swell with pride.

A couple of decades ago I met some traditionalist Catholics. They liked our liturgy (‘a real mass, much better than the rubbish we have’), liked our values, pro-family, anti-abortion etc. But then they came to know that our clergy are married and that we allow birth control. And they saw in us liberals. In reality, we are above both conservatism and liberalism. We follow the Tradition.

Q: Why are women not clergy in the Orthodox Church?

A: Women are far too important to be clergy. Who will sing?! The whole idea that women should be clergy comes from clericalism (the crazy and deformed idea that the clergy are more important than laypeople) and from lack of veneration for the Mother of God. This at once leads to the Protestant lack of respect for women. This lack of respect is now the norm in Western societies and this is why Western women are obliged to behave like men and work like men to the detriment of their health, well-being and the next generation.

Q: How do you deal with narcissists?

A: You flee them. Fr Sophrony taught me to beware of them in the early 1980s, for narcissists always act by psychological transfer. In other words, as Fr Sophrony said about Chadwick, the Cambridge academic ‘theologian’, who condemned the Church Fathers, when they accuse others of grave errors, they are talking about themselves.

Q: Do you believe in conspiracy theories?

A: Nearly all conspiracy theories exist because people don’t believe either in the human capacity for stupidity or in the correcting Providence of God. I believe in both.

Q: Are all Orthodox services fixed, always the same?

A: They are largely the same, fixed, with the exception of memorial services (panikhidas/parastases) and funeral services. These two latter always seem to be done differently, unlike, for example, baptisms, weddings, or the eucharist, vespers, matins etc.

Q: Is the eucharistic fast from midnight absolute?

A: For those who can keep it, yes. Thus, pregnant mothers, children up until the age of seven and (usually elderly) people who must take medication are excused and are allowed to drink something and even eat a small amount of bread, if necessary – as it sometimes is with certain medicines. In the Middle East clergy usually drink coffee before the Liturgy. This is to do with the climate and it is their custom (I have seen an Antiochian bishop doing it) and they consider that this is fasting, because it is not eating.

In Western countries there is a problem with fasting because liturgies here start late, sometimes as late as 10.00 am or 11.00 and it is difficult to fast. In Orthodox countries liturgies start at 7.00 am, 8.00 and 9.00 and it is easier. However, in the Romanian church in east London, they start at 5.00 am because Anglicans need to use their church at 9.00.

Q: Will Ukraine join NATO and the EU?

A: The question is irrelevant. Soon there will be no Ukraine to join NATO, no NATO to be joined, and no EU to be joined.

Q: Who was St Cedd?

A: Cedd (+ 664) is the Apostle of Essex, the kingdom of the Saxons who lived in the East. He is then the first bishop and patron-saint of Essex, the brother by blood or by monasticism, of St Chad, whose name means ‘protector’. Indeed, St Cedd’s name is pronounced Ched (not Ked or Sed, which are errors) and in other words this ‘Ched’ is probably just another form of Chad. They may even have been twin brothers, which would explain this. Most of St Cedd’s seventh-century cathedral still stands intact, on the marshes where the old Roman fort of Othona stood, at Bradwell-on-Sea on the Essex coast.

Q: Is the existence of different approaches of Western peoples to Orthodoxy acceptable?

A: Of course. We have Greek, Serbian Romanian, Georgian, Arab, Russian. They are all different, but all in themselves have valid approaches to Orthodoxy. As for Western countries, shaped especially by the last 500 years of history of culture, there are different emphases. For example, French Orthodox have an intellectual approach, the Germans emphasise rules (the Typicon was the first book they translated!), the Scandinavians and the Swiss love order, the Italians stress the aesthetic and the artistic, the English the moral, the Spanish the contemplative, the Australians the pragmatic. These approaches can all work, providing that they are not exaggerated and are integral parts of the common Orthodox Tradition.

 

 

The Coming Synod in Moscow: An Example to the Vatican?

Introduction

The Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow will meet in just a few days’ time. Of the many issues the Synodal members will have to decide is that of possible autocephaly for the Orthodox in Moldova. As we know, Metr Vladimir of Moldova has asked for autocephaly in order to overcome the problems in his country. He fears either that the Moscow Patriarchate will be banned in Moldova or else that his flock will transfer en masse to the Patriarchate of Bucharest. This is difficult for Moscow. This thorny problem is, however, only the tip of the iceberg.

In the last century the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephaly to Orthodox in Poland, Czechoslovakia and to Carpatho-Russians in Northern America (the ‘OCA’). Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union into fifteen different republics 32 years ago, it has not given autocephaly to anyone. It seems to us that the granting of autocephaly to Orthodox who live in now independent republics is long overdue.

Thus, we would suggest that Orthodox in the Ukraine (all those on territory under the political control of the government in Kiev), Moldova, and the three Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) should all receive autocephaly, but not be allowed a Diaspora presence (see below). This would mean that the Orthodox in Belarus would remain in their Exarchate, as they have not requested autonomy (as they have in Japan and China), let alone autocephaly.

However, if this Synod in Moscow were to become a Synod of Decentralisation, that is, of Autocephaly, Autonomy and Exarchate, we would suggest that perhaps further decentralisation should take place:

 

Why not give up the remaining thirty or so Moscow parishes in North America and give them to the OCA, on condition that the whole Autocephalous Church there be renamed the NAOC – the Northern American Orthodox Church? (Northern America being the USA, Canada, Greenland and a couple of dependent islands). Local bishops and parishes of the American Synod (called ROCOR)in Northern America should be informed that they must in time, say, over the coming five years, obey the Patriarchal Synod and also join, or else fall out of communion.

Thus: Three New Exarchates, making Four Autocephalous Churches: The Ukrainian, the Moldovan, the Baltic and the Northern American.

Why not grant the Western European Exarchate Autonomy, merging that Exarchate with the Archdiocese of Western Europe? With autonomy would come long-overdue internationalisation and the organisation’s indispensable acceptance by Non-Russian nationalities. This Autonomous Western European Orthodox Church would also include all bishops and parishes of the Ukrainian, Moldovan and Baltic Orthodox Churches. Local bishops and parishes of the American Synod (ROCOR) in Western Europe should be informed that they must in time, say, over the coming five years, obey the Patriarchal Synod and also join, or else fall out of communion.

Thus: One New Exarchate, making Three Autonomous Churches: The Western European, the Japanese and the Chinese.

Why not create one single Exarchate for the Metropolia of Kazakhstan and the Metropolia of Central Asia? Why not create an Exarchate for all parishes in Latin America, from Argentina through Central America to Mexico? Why not suggest creating an Exarchate of Oceania, based on the Russian parishes in Australia (at present under the American Synod)?

Thus: Two New Exarchates, making Five Exarchates: The Belarussian, the Kazakhstan and Central Asian, the African, the South-East Asian and the Latin American. And one new potential Exarchate for the future.

 

Conclusion

Such a Synod in Moscow would surely set an example of decentralisation to the current Roman Catholic ‘Synod on Synodality’, which is, among other immense problems of its own, also grappling with its historic and spiritually deadening problem of centralisation, caused by Papism.

2. Practical Consequences of No Local Church: The Pastoral Situation in England

As one Serbian priest in France put it to me 30 years ago, living in Western culture for Orthodox Christians is like entering an acid bath. In other words, you face spiritual death through assimilation, unless you keep your identity – that is, the Orthodox Faith. And that is virtually impossible to do unless you have a normal parish church with services at least twice a week and which is accessible. Here I will speak of England because I have known the situation here for fifty years, seen them all come and go, and here is where I know today’s situation best. Here most churches are either dying out or have already died out.

1) ROCOR

ROCOR in England had completely died out after three generations (1917-1992). The faith had not been passed on at all. Typically, children, grandchildren and, even more, great-grandchildren abandoned Orthodoxy, the process sped up with intermarriage (with such tiny numbers, there was literally ‘no-one to marry’ inside the Church). With basically only one permanent church to go to in west London and living outside London, people lost a Church, which appeared to give them no pastoral care outside London. Some of the first generation, like the late Professor Nikolai Andreyev in Cambridge, themselves actually had their children baptised in the Church of England from the outset: ‘We are in England now’, he said.

Others changed their surnames to English surnames, Volkoff to Wolcough, Kalinsky to Kay, for instance. Some strove to eliminate any sign of an English accent in their speech. The old ROCOR priest in Bradford refused to baptise any Russian children and sent them to the Church of England for ‘christening’. He told his parishioners: ‘There’s no point. They won’t replace me, so the church will close down after me’. Of course, he was actually right. He died and that was it. His church disappeared many years ago. Most children said that Orthodoxy was only for old people: ‘It’s nothing to do with me, I’m English’ and ‘I don’t understand what it’s all about’. Two years ago, already tiny ROCOR lost by far its biggest parish, six other parishes and over half its clergy, half its jurisdiction, because of its now schismatic foreign nature and its arrogant refusal to listen to the local people. People and clergy voted with their feet and left.

ROCOR only continues to exist today because it ‘restocked’ over the last thirty years from the ex-Soviet Union (though Ukrainians have now left that aggressively Russian institution) and from a few American-style crazy converts with their sectarian views. I know only six of the old generation, whose Russian grandparents immigrated here. Three are atheists, one is Church of England, and one became a Jew by being circumcised when in his twenties. Only one, now in her eighties, remains Orthodox (though her children and grandchildren are all Church of England). However, she does not go to church, even though she lives only 30 minutes away from London, because of the sectarian nature of the new ROCOR regime.

Constantinople

The Patriarchate of Constantinople used to have by far the largest jurisdiction in England. It expanded greatly between the 1950s and 1970s through the mass immigration of Cypriots. At one time it had six bishops. Its new Archbishop has told me that he now has 100 priests who are very elderly, but only three candidates to replace them. Churches that were attended by 500-1,000 forty years ago now get congregations of 20-30 elderly. Many smaller seaside town parishes will probably close. Whenever children appear in them, you know that they are Romanians. There are also embarrassing rifts between Cypriots, Greeks and Cretans. The worst case by far was in Brighton, but it is not easy elsewhere, with Greeks looking down on Cypriots as provincials who cannot even speak Greek properly. There are large numbers of Anglican vicars of Greek descent, whose parents had immigrated here. I have come across over twenty of them (and one who is Russian). Why? Because they never understood a word of Greek services. On top of that, considering themselves to be English, they could get a well-paid job and a free house in the Church of England. Nothing like that in the Orthodox Church!

The Greeks have a reputation for the flag waving of extreme nationalism. It is probably unfair. Russians can be extremely racist. And others. However, I have to say that all the worst experiences I have come across over the last fifty years have been with Greeks, but perhaps simply because they were so numerous. I have met several English people who visited Greek churches and were told literally: ‘Go away’. (Also in far less polite language). One Greek priest told one Englishman: ‘Join the Church of England, you are English, you can’t join us, wrong nationality’. (The man in question later joined the Russian Church and became a priest there). Another case: ‘You can’t come here, you’re not dark enough’. It is a sad fact that most Greek churches (but in fairness, not only Greek ones) are merely ethnic clubs.

As a prison chaplain, I regularly see middle-aged Cypriots in prison. They are the children and grandchildren of the original immigrants. They do not speak a word of Greek and have not the least idea of Orthodoxy. One of them told me that when his grandmother had told him that he was ‘Orthodox’, he had thought that he was a Jew. The only bright spots are the convent/monastery in Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, now with 25 Romanian nuns, and at last building a larger church, and Bp Rafael, the new Greek bishop (and the only Orthodox bishop) in Scotland. Tolleshunt Knights has welcomed all nationalities. Bp Rafael has done the same, welcoming all nationalities and calendars and is in effect the Bishop of Scotland. Only he has the authority and openness. (A pity for us that he is not in England!). In both cases, there is real hope. Why? Because both put Christ first and not their nationality.

The Others

Leaving aside the post-1945 Belarussians, Latvians and Poles who all died out, also the tiny numbers of very inward-looking but still churched Georgians and Bulgarians, and the Paris Russians (ROCOR virtually killed them off with aid from the Moscow Patriarchate), we come to the Serbs, the Patriarchal Russians, the Antiochians, the Ukrainians and the Romanians. The Serbs have faced the same problems as the others and the wave of post-1945 immigrants died out; one of the last of them I buried in a Suffolk village a few years ago. He had not been to church since the 1950s. Few kept the Faith. Some changed their surnames, one Serbian priest I knew dressed like an Anglican minister also baptised like an Anglican minister, by splashing water on foreheads of babies, telling me that: ‘We are not in the Balkans now’.

The Patriarchal Russians, once Bloomites, have also largely died out, but have restocked from the ex-Soviet Union. Today their Church sometimes gives the impression (which may or may not be the case) of being an aggressively nationalistic ghetto, an extension of the Embassy, with all the faults that can be found in churches in post-Soviet Russia, all about money and ritualism. However, possibly things will improve after the conflict in the Ukraine ends. The Antiochians appear to be a group for dissatisfied Anglicans and elderly ex-vicars, who do not know how to celebrate the services, but perhaps if they get enough laypeople of other nationalities, something may come of it. Some of the converts are rather extreme Evangelicals, who have little idea of Orthodoxy. That is worrying, however, some of its clergy behave as real pastors. The Ukrainians are very divided into pre-2022 Ukrainians (under Constantinople, extremely nationalistic, elderly, dying out) and the refugees since the tragedy of 2022. The latter are very small in number for now (most of the refugees were atheists, schismatics or else Uniats) and live under the disputed jurisdiction of Kiev.

Finally, we come to the masses of Romanians (and Moldovans). Nearly all have come here recently and in huge numbers, over 400,000, perhaps 500,000 or even more, forming the vast majority of Orthodox in this country. However, although there are very big parishes, with hundreds coming every Sunday, there are still fewer than 40 priests, still no resident bishop and a small monastery under construction near Luton. This is a jurisdiction that is being formed, but with a chronic lack of infrastructure because all is new. However, it is very young and dynamic. One Romanian priest I know does nearly 1,000 baptisms a year, usually about 20 at a time, every week. This is the youth. Speaking a Latin language and with a surprisingly open mentality, Romanian parishes are generally by far the most welcoming and the most open to English. Hope is here, providing that we learn from the mistakes of the Greeks and Russians who went before us. The three-generation rule seems to be implacable: if you manage to transmit the Faith to the third generation, a new Local Church can be born. If not, you will die out.

 

 

1. Why There Are No Local Churches in the Western World

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Introduction

So far only one new Local Church has resulted from Orthodox immigration to Western countries. It was largely the result of the first immigration to the USA from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1880 on. This Church is called the OCA – the Orthodox Church in America. Unfortunately, even after over fifty years, despite intermarriage with Non-Orthodox and local people who have joined the OCA, 80%-90% of local Orthodox have not accepted it, nor many bishops, let alone the hundreds of millions of Non-Orthodox. Although Orthodox immigration to North America began nearly 150 years ago, more general, large-scale Orthodox immigration to the Western world only began after 1917.

The absence of new Local Churches amid the current presence of millions of Orthodox immigrants, their descendants and native Orthodox from the last hundred years, thousands of Orthodox priests and nearly one hundred Orthodox bishops in North and South America, Western Europe and Australia, is the elephant in the room. If you take away the four largest of the sixteen Local Orthodox Churches, the Russian, Romanian, Greek and Serbian, the number of Orthodox in Western Europe alone is greater than in any of the other twelve Local Churches! Why this absence of new Local Churches for millions of Orthodox? What has gone wrong?

Ideology

The answer could be summed up in one word – ideology. For Orthodox Christianity is not and cannot be an ideology. It is the Church, the Gospel. And anyone who believes that the Church and the Gospel form an ideology is not a Christian. For an ideology, that is, an ‘ism’, is always negative, it is always opposed to something or someone, always exclusive, always divisive, always based on dislike and even hatred. In the Gospels Christ never excluded, making it clear that the only exclusion comes from men, not from God. Indeed, He was Himself persecuted and excluded in the most radical way – He was murdered and precisely for purely ideological reasons – He did not ‘fit in’ with an ideology. What forms have these ideologies taken in the Western world, into which Orthodox Christians immigrated?

1) Nationalist Ideology

The first ideology impeding the development of a Local Church is nationalism or racism. Nationalism is a particular form of parochialism, the idea that ‘only what we do is right’, ‘our way is the best’, in other words, racial exclusivism. Whether Greek, Russian, American or other, all nationalist ideologies are by definition exclusive. Here there has been a major problem even with the OCA. Although it did not put one single nationality first, it put several nationalities first. And in order to bind these nationalities together, it did not put Christ first, but Americanism.

Thus, it purposely and at great expense moved its centre to the national capital, Washington, and began imposing English on all, together also with the American calendar. However, the Church must operate in the languages of the grassroots faithful and on the calendar that they want, not those imposed on them from above. These are pastoral and not ideological matters. Thus, nationalism in Orthodoxy can also be that of the English language or other Western languages, ‘We will not accept anyone who does not conform to our nationality’. This is nationalism.

For example, I remember here some twenty years ago one Englishwoman who told me that she wanted to join our Church, but said that she did not want to mix with ‘foreigners’. I told her that we could not accept her condition: Christ mixed with ‘foreigners’ – indeed He was Himself a ‘foreigner, an ‘Asian’ and ‘olive-skinned’! She was horrified. Later I heard how she had joined a right-wing group which was part of a rather extreme nationalist party. She had deprived herself of the Church, as she had been unable to overcome her prejudices. She had excluded herself from the Church of God.

2) Political Ideology

Next come political ideologies, that is to say, isms which define inclinations to left or to right. People are all different and have different experiences of life and form their political views according to their experiences. Thus, for instance, a very poor Greek factory worker who immigrates to the USA may profess a left-wing ideology, whereas a Russian aristocrat, who has been deprived of his wealth by Communists, will choose a right-wing ideology. There is nothing wrong with either of these choices – they are both sincere. What is wrong is when these ideologies are placed above Christ and imposed on all exclusively, imposed instead of Christ, Who is the only central and unifying factor in Church life. This has been especially visible in the Russian Church. This has three different groups, supposedly united, and yet in Europe one of them (ROCOR) has excommunicated another (the Archdiocese of Western Europe)! So are sects born.

In Church terms we have seen, especially in the USA over the last sixty years, a polarisation between left and right in Church life. For example, one senior bishop there openly supports the Democrat Party and another openly supports Trump. The question is do they both also support Christ? It is not very clear. This opposition between left and right divides into modernism, liberalism, ecumenism and new calendarism on the one hand and, on the other hand, traditionalism, conservatism, sectarianism and old calendarism. Where is Christ in all these arguments? Such are the arguments between parties that many refuse even to concelebrate and socialise with those of the other view. I thought they were all Orthodox Christians.

All this is due to a total lack of respect. And where does respect come from? It comes from love. A husband and wife who love one another respect one another. So we can say that all such polemics come from a lack of love, that is to say, a lack of Christ, Who is Love. And this we can see from the moralism in right-wing ideologies and the amoralism and immoralism in left-wing ideologies. Both moralism and a-im-moralism are sure signs of a lack of spirituality. Just as the pharisees replaced spirituality with censorious and judgemental moralism, so do right-wing politicos. As for the left-wing – anything goes, as we can see in such secularised Protestant groupings as Anglicanism. Do anything you want, as there is nothing spiritual in the secular.

3) The Ideology of Mammon

The Western world is controlled by money and finance. That is why its ideology is called Capitalism, the ideology of oligarchs who rule the Western world. Finance controls politics (you cannot get elected without the backing of rich oligarchs), the media (which produces oligarchs (‘media tycoons’) and have huge sums of money) and increasingly also the Church. Very sadly, for more and more bishops especially, the Church is now a Business, a way of making money. Beware, it was much less so in the past and where it was so in the past, it all went wrong and collapsed, like the Russian Church in 1917. Beware of gold and jewels.

All this goes against the Gospel: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth’. ‘You cannot serve God and Mammon’. What could be clearer? ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’. The Apostle Paul: ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’. And yet we had one bishop from the Russian Church here whose obsession was money and who continually shouted at his self-sacrificing priests that they had too much money, that he did not have enough and that they must give him more and then slandered them, accusing them of stealing money! He was obsessed. Of course, he finished badly. Very badly. And very lonely.

Whom do we venerate above all? St John the Baptist? The Mother of God? St John the Theologian? St Antony the Great? St Nicholas of Myra? St Mary of Egypt? St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne? St Paraskeva of the Balkans? St Andrew the Fool for Christ? St Xenia of Saint Petersburg? St Seraphim of Sarov? St Nectarios of Aegina? St Matrona of Moscow? St Nicholas of Zhicha? St John of Shanghai? St Paisios the Athonite? Name one of them who was rich. Name one of them who was not humble.

Conclusion

Above we have listed the three ideologies, or isms, which destroy and are destroying the Church. For as long as many clergy and people are devoted to Nationalism, Political ‘isms’ and Mammonism, there will be no Local Churches in Western countries, which are the destinations of Orthodox immigration. How can these isms be countered? Only by their opposites:

The opposite of nationalism is not some cosmopolitan anti-nationalism, but being all-national, for Christ is above all nations, but also accepts them all. He is both transcendent and immanent.

The opposite of political isms, party politics and so partial politics is not some empty, pretend apoliticism, but being tolerantly all-political, accepting all, whatever their views.

The opposite of Mammonism is not some disincarnate dreaminess and intellectual disengagement from reality, but the practical foundation of churches without self-interest, the incarnation of the Church of God, as the tentmaker Apostle Paul and all the other apostles showed us.

 

 

An Interview: On St John’s Church in Colchester, the Present Situation in the Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian and Greek Churches, St Sophrony and Metr Antony Bloom.

The following is the recap of an interview given in Colchester on the Feast of the Dormition, 28 August 2023, to pilgrims from Romania, one of whom, Starets Vikenty from Targoviste, concelebrated with us.

 

Q: How did you obtain this enormous and beautiful church in Colchester, which is like a monastery?

A: It was through a miracle of St John of Shanghai. For eleven years we had been renting temporary premises and then this church came up for sale. We only had £4,000 in our account. So we prayed to St John and after six weeks, without even the slightest help from the Russian bishops or local Russians, we came to have £180,000 in our account. We bought the church. I still cannot believe this happened, even after 15 years.

Q: How did you come to be in the Romanian Church?

A: That too was a miracle of St John. You know for decades the Romanian church in Paris, where I studied, was under the Russian Church. This was through the kindness of St John and his successor Archbishop Antony of Geneva, who ordained me. It was on the new calendar – in those days the Russian Church had no problem with that. The Romanian problem was purely political, they were political refugees, so the Russian Church sheltered them until the political situation in Romania was resolved and the Paris parish could return to the freed Romanian Church, as it did twenty years ago.

Now when the Russian Church came quite recently into great political turmoil, we had to take refuge in the Romanian Church. I said to Metr Joseph at the time (we communicate in French): ‘We have Russian traditions and use the old calendar’. He answered: ‘No problem’. This was undoubtedly too by the prayers of St John. Here in Colchester we have been repaid for St John’s charity in Paris all those years ago. It is the spiritual law. Do good and good will come back to you. Do bad and bad will come back to you. It is the boomerang principle.

I would add also that in the 1970s the well-known Romanian ascetic, Fr Raphael (Noica), had a great influence on me. This gave me even then a very positive picture of the spiritual grandeur of the Romanian Church.

Q: You are now a well-established parish under Metr Joseph and his Synod of the Autonomous Romanian Metropolia of Western and Southern Europe. What has been the greatest change in recent years?

A: Without doubt, it was the government lockdowns during covid. Since we refused to close down and I said publicly that I was willing to go to prison for it, we doubled our congregation. True, that did make our then bishop very unhappy because his small church in London was forced to close. We were at some points the only Orthodox church open in England. We had people of all nationalities coming to us from all over the south and east of England, up to 150 miles away, from Brighton, Reading and Lincolnshire. Both Russian churches in London closed down, as well as the Greek churches, the Antiochian churches and the monastery in Tolleshunt Knights.

Recently someone told me how nostalgic he was for that time! We did not ring the bells, we did not switch on the lights, no parking was allowed in the Church car park and we never opened the front doors which had a notice on them saying: ‘Due to the government lockdown, these doors are closed’. It was absolutely true, we used the side door which people went in and out of in small numbers and people were told not to gather and talk outside in front of the Church. This man said to me: ‘It was like the catacomb Church’. He is nostalgic for that. I can understand him.

Q: What was your attitude to covid vaccination?

A: Neutral. It was not a dogmatic question, it was up to everyone personally. But I always told people to make the sign of the cross over the vaccine, if they had to receive it, just in case.

Q: The situation of having a church to go to was good for the people. But did it affect you?

A: Yes, definitely – apart from being constantly very tired from overwork! First of all, we realised that we as a church had been virtually unknown before. Suddenly hundreds, if not thousands, of Orthodox discovered us. It was the best advert we could ever have had. Secondly, I also went out, covering a thousand miles a week, and gave hundreds more people communion in their homes. I was never stopped by the police, the roads were more or less empty. I discovered that the Russian priests in London were refusing to go out and give communion. I was the only one doing so. Thirdly, I realised just how many Romanian Orthodox there were in England, realising that they were by then three-quarters of all Orthodox here. We could no longer remain as a small minority amidst this ocean of Romanian Orthodox. We had a pastoral responsibility towards them.

Q: Until the 1990s, the majority of Orthodox in England were Greeks. Why did you not think of joining them, as you later joined the majority Romanian Church?

A: First of all, from 1983 until 1997 I lived in Paris, the centre of the Russian emigration, where I studied at seminary and where there were and are very few Greeks or Orthodox of any other nationality except Russian. Secondly, sadly, the Greeks had always been hostile to Non-Greeks. I remember in the 1970s and 1980s how Greeks simply told Non-Greeks to go away (and sometimes not as politely as that). It does not matter how numerous you are, when you have that attitude, you condemn yourself to dying out – which is exactly what has happened. And thirdly the Greek hierarchy was always politically and masonically very compromised and I was very uncomfortable with that, whatever the ordinary priests and people. I did not want to have to become a freemason, as they offered me.

Q: So was this ‘ocean’ of Romanians the reason why you joined the Romanian Church?

A: No. The reason we joined the Romanian Church eighteen months ago, just before the conflict in the Ukraine entered its new and very violent phase, was the sectarianisation of the Russian Church Outside Russia.

The old Russian archbishop had been completely indifferent to us, celebrating in our church only once in 20 years! When I asked for his blessing to obtain the church in Colchester, he gave it, without hostility, but made it clear that he thought I was crazy to set up a large church and that he would not in any way help us. However, the new bishop, who replaced him, belonged to what we, and many others, came to call ‘ROCCOR’, ‘Russian Orthodox Crazy Converts Outside Russia’.

A very recent, inexperienced, young convert, with huge gaps in his knowledge, without seminary training and no pastoral experience, he was put in charge of the few remaining ROCOR parishes that remained in Western Europe and made mistake after mistake. He governed through google-translate! We had been members of the Russian Church before he was born and had known those who had been adults in Russia before 1917. He also told us all publicly that ‘I don’t like Romanians and only half-like Moldovans’. This was in front of a group of twenty of us, half Romanians or Moldovans!

It was one of the final acts of suicide for the ROCOR Diocese in Western Europe, the last in a long series. They had run out of competent bishops. All the older and experienced priests had to be cast out and replaced with crazy converts, neophytes. Fr Seraphim Rose’s ultimate nightmare from the 1970s had come true. ‘Super-correctness’ had taken over. (Remember that Fr Seraphim was a disciple of St John of Shanghai, and so was a sort of spiritual uncle to me).

In extreme cases, as in the USA, this meant expelling families, women and children from real parishes, and repopulating the tiny remaining groups with crazy converts, ‘internet Orthodox’, misogynists, repressed homosexuals, indifferent to the future of the Church, the children, incels and even youths who like toying with Nazi weapons. Such will debate at length the Typikon, fasting, any outward rules, taking on names like Seraphim, Moses, Vladmir and have long hair and beards like monks. However, real monks live in humility and obedience and do not hate others and do not hate themselves.

How did they imagine they could get away with this?! A Church which persecutes its faithful is no longer a Church. It is as simple as that. As it is written: ‘Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For so persecuted they the prophets who were before you’.

Q: So why did you not simply transfer from this new ROCOR to the Patriarchal Church, the Sourozh Diocese?

A: That was the first thing we tried, nine months before we joined the Romanian Church, but they turned us down! We had the impression that they had received strict instructions from Moscow not to take anyone from ROCOR. It seems to be their policy. It is of course their loss. We wanted to be in the Russian Church, but they did not want us and our parishes.

Q: Why was this ‘sectarianisation’ such a big deal for you?

A: First of all, because sects are always full of hatred. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus, (c. 330 – c. 391) wrote: ‘Not even wild beasts are as hostile to men as Christian sects’. I can assure you of the truth of this.

Secondly, because it had long ago become part of my destiny, with many others, to work for the reconciliation of the three parts of the Russian Church in the emigration, ROCOR, the Paris Archdiocese, and the tiny Moscow Patriarchate in the emigration. In May 2007, ROCOR was at last reconciled with the Patriarchate and then in December 2018, the Paris Archdiocese, where we have many family members and friends, was reconciled with the Patriarchate. We had achieved victory and everything I had worked for had come to fruition through all those long decades. For two years we had the miracle of unity! But, of course, the devil would not leave it there.

In December 2020 everything was completely ruined when the young crazy convert bishop created a schism with the Paris Archdiocese because it had received a Catholic priest in the usual Patriarchal (and pre-Revolutionary) way, by confession and communion. All of us, sixteen clerics and thousands of people, well over half the diocese, were horrified and were forced to stand up to his schism, which had created an international scandal. We acted in accordance with Canon XV of the First and Second Council under St Photios of Constantinople. We now understand what sectarianisation means, for the young bishop in question has been backed up by the whole of the americanised ROCOR. It is the end of that group, it had degenerated into a cultish sect. So sad to see. It is said, as we saw, that even the blood of martyrs cannot overcome schism.

Q: Did you ever regret leaving ROCOR?

A: Never. We acted according to our Orthodox conscience. We had no choice. It was an existential question. Either we belonged to the Church, or else we were a sect. We took the only possible path, to leave the sect and all its hatred and slanders. And persecution for righteousness sake is always spiritually rewarded, as we have seen.

Q: You mention crazy converts, but you are also a convert, aren’t you?

A: I was converted in 1971, 52 years ago, but I am not crazy! Ask our many parishioners in our parishes.

Craziness always comes from having no roots. I was saved from that by being rooted, coming from a literally down to earth family (my grandfather and those before him were ploughmen) on the Essex-Suffolk border, and by being a historian, hagiographer and, above all, by being a pastor. When you are a pastor, you work with real people, not with woolly ideas, which then turn into ideologies, which then turn into dangerous fantasies.

Q: One question before we move on from this. Did you think about joining the Church of Constantinople, given the political turmoil in the Russian Church?

A: We thought about it, but dismissed it, because Constantinople was, and still is, in schism with the Russian Church. We wanted to be in communion with everyone, as we are (except with the tiny ROCCOR, though they are de facto in communion with no-one and do not wish to be and do not allow their clergy, at least those here, to be in communion with others).

Q: So, given this schism inside the Moscow Patriarchate, how do you see your future?

A: The internal schism in the Russian Orthodox Church, caused by the new ROCOR episcopate, is now nothing to do with us, thank God. They must clean up their own mess, which sleeping Moscow has allowed to develop. Far worse than that is the external schism between Moscow and Constantinople. Fortunately, we in the Romanian Church, as those in several other local Churches, are in communion with both sides. And that therefore is something to do with us.

I have worked for Orthodox Church unity all my life. Now the Russian Church is outside unity with the Greek Local Churches and vice versa. There must be a way out of that, but that way out can only open up once the Ukrainian conflict is over, probably next year. Those of us who are neutral, neither Greek, nor Russian, can help here.

Though I suspect that the Russian State can also help here. It has a very broad vision of traditional values, which it has expressed in BRICS, which is Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, Confucian, Catholic and Protestant. It is this building on traditional values between nationalities which can help overcome parochial splits between the Local Orthodox Churches. Only a broad vision can overcome ‘jurisdictionalism’. This latter is only an advanced form of the spiritual disease of parochialism. This means narrow and racist bigotry – the concept born from total inexperience that ‘only the church I go to is good and everyone else is wrong’.

Q: But what about the schism in the Ukraine between the Orthodox under Metr Onufry and those under Constantinople? How can that be overcome? A merger?

A: There is right and wrong in the Ukraine, no merger between the Church and the schismatics is possible. We know what we are talking about. For example, just as in the Ukraine, so here too renegade bishops want to steal our churches and when they fail, they try and close them down. There is no difference between atheism coming from the Ukraine and atheism coming from the USA – atheism is atheism.

We all know that there is only one real Church in the Ukraine, that of Metr Onufry. Metr Onufry and his Church find themselves persecuted by both sides. He is the answer. Autocephaly given to him will solve all the problems, once the military conflict is over. Once that conflict has been addressed, then there will have to be a Council of the Church and both Moscow and Constantinople will have to grant autocephaly to the canonical Church in the Ukraine and not to some band of Nazi gangsters. Then we in the rest of the Church can return to normality and canonicity.

Q: The Church situation in Moldova also seems to be dire. The Moscow Church there claims that the Romanian speakers who join the Romanian Church there have no grace. What do you think of this?

A: It is very sad to see.  Bishops who lose property and money by driving clergy and people away through aggressive bullying and jealousy always claim that those who leave them (with the property and money, which never anyway belonged to those bishops anyway) ‘have no grace’ or are ‘uncanonical’ or are ‘schismatics’. This went on for generations in the Russian Church in the emigration. I have seen it all before! Then, suddenly, one day, they all said, yes, we hated each other for decades, but we did not mean it! It was all politics! (Which of course, it was). Nobody believes their nonsense about those who fight for truth and justice against schism and injustice having ‘no grace’. Those who claim such nonsense merely discredit themselves and are laughed at by other bishops.

Another example. In 2006 in these islands there took place the so-called ‘Sourozh schism’, when half of the local Moscow Patriarchate Sourozh Diocese left Moscow and joined Constantinople. The half that left had been the liberal half created by the late Metropolitan Antony Bloom. And he had been allowed to create that. Now that half had already told me in 1982 that they intended to leave Sourozh for Constantinople! They had made no secret about it.

It is a typical example. There are those who do nothing about a potentially critical situation for 25 years and then over-react in a completely over the top way. They then find they have to start all over again. The usual story. It seems to be something in their psyche. The Ukraine is another example. If the Ukraine had received autocephaly in the 1990s, there would never have been the temptation of setting up a Constantinople Church there.

Another small example was the little monastic community at Brookwood outside London. For years it had been concelebrating with Greek Old Calendarists and saying quite openly that they would leave for that group if ROCOR agreed to unity with Moscow. When ROCOR declared its intention of doing just that, Brookwood left. I had the job of announcing their departure to their archbishop. He refused to believe me! And yet Brookwood had never made the slightest secret of its views. And then the ROCOR episcopate, as usual, went completely over the top in reaction, and declared that somehow, mysteriously, Brookwood ‘no longer has any grace’! The grace switch had been turned off! No wonder nobody believes anything that the ROCOR episcopate says.

The problem is that once Brookwood had gone to the Greek Old Calendarists and any chance of negotiation to return had been very aggressively rejected by its ROCOR bishop, who denounced Brookwood as ‘graceless’, leaving it no way of going back, Brookwood became ever more extreme. For example, it has recently rebaptised a man who was baptised into ROCOR some years ago and had received confession and communion in it for several years. This act denies the Creed: ‘I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins’. This is psychopathology, the crazy convert syndrome.

As for Moldova, as in the Ukraine, as usual, extremists will commit suicide by their typical over the top ‘no grace’ reaction. They will lose everything there. They may as well give up now. If they continue, they will fall out of communion with the Romanian Church, on top of everything else. They do risk total and self-imposed isolation.

Q: You mentioned Metr Antony Bloom. You knew them both very well and I believe that Metr Antony tonsured you reader in 1980. Can you explain to us the argument between him and St Sophrony of Essex?

To answer that, I have to explain the whole historical background.

Q: Go ahead.

A: After 1917 the Russian emigration divided into three groups along political lines (divisions in the Church are always because of politics). The largest group was the monarchist and right-wing ROCOR, attached to pre-1917 Russia and also largely pro-German (later some of its members, called Vlasovtsy, became traitors by actually fighting with Hitler in order to ‘liberate Russia’). Then came the group in Paris, where the French-speaking Saint Petersburg aristocrats (who had the money) and leftist intellectuals and anti-monastic freemasons had gone. Under Constantinople, they controlled most of Russian Orthodox France, as well as the fringes around the French borders, for example, in Belgium, north-west Italy, western Germany, as well as a parish in London, but they had little influence outside that Paris-centric world. Finally, came the tiny Moscow Patriarchate, which the mass of emigres saw as a Soviet organisation. In reality, it attracted only Russian patriots and ultra-nationalists, for whom Russia, even Soviet Russia, could do no wrong.

Now both St Sophrony the Athonite (that is his official title, not St Sophrony ‘of Essex’) and Metr Antony Bloom came from wealthy families in Russia, who had quite naturally gravitated to Paris. After the future Fr Sophrony had been through his Hinduism and liberal Art Nouveau phases and the future Metropolitan had been through his atheist and liberal intellectual phases, both gravitated to the Moscow Patriarchate. However, they had totally different experiences there.

The future Fr Sophrony went to Mt Athos, where he, a young intellectual and philosopher, met the great but semi-literate peasant saint, Fr Silvanus, or Silouan in its Russian form. It was the making of him, a huge revelation. Then Fr Sophrony had to go through the Nazi occupation of Athos, when the Nazis forced the Russian monastery there to hang up a picture of Hitler. On the other hand, the future Metr Antony, a young doctor, had remained in Nazi-occupied Paris, where he helped the French Resistance. After the war this Andrei Bloom became a hieromonk with the name of Antony and was sent to England. Meanwhile, Fr Sophrony and two others were expelled from Mt Athos by the Greek authorities, who very unjustly accused them of collaboration with the Nazis. From there he went back to Paris to write his great work, the saint’s life. This is most of our source about the future St Silouan. Then, in 1959, Fr Sophrony moved to England.

So it was that two ex-Parisians met in England. Fr Sophrony and his tiny monastic community of three came under the jurisdiction of Metr Antony in England. The former was obviously pro-monastic, the latter ferociously anti-monastic, in the Paris tradition. Thus, in 1965 Fr Sophrony, the Moscow loyalist, was forced to cross over to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was a fatal loss for Moscow. I saw some of the correspondence about it in the 1970s.

I was actually present on a Saturday in summer 1981 or 1982 at the formal reconciliation of the two men. However, it was only formal, the fact is that the Russians never accepted Fr Sophrony, seeing him as a traitor. When in 2019 he was canonised by Patriarch Bartholomew, at a time when Constantinople had set up a new Church in the Ukraine, it was not accepted by the Russians either. Thus, we were not allowed to venerate St Sophrony when we were under ROCOR. Our first act on leaving ROCOR was to get out his icon and put it out in church for veneration.

Q: So you clearly accept him as a saint?

A: Yes, I am now free to say so and will not be attacked for it, as I was when I was under ROCOR. It is because Fr Sophrony reflected some of the glory of the great saint, Silouan. This is shown in the excellent Tolleshunt Knights icon where St Sophrony is depicted holding the icon of St Silouan.

Here we have to understand that there are international saints, national saints and local saints. International saints are the apostles, St Spyridon, St Nicholas, St Nectarios of Aegina, St Silouan the Athonite, St John of Shanghai, St Paisios the Athonite etc. Then come national saints: St John of Rila (Bulgaria), St Sava (Serbia), St Sergius of Radonezh (Russia), St Daniel of Sihastra (Romania), St Gregory V of Constantinople (Greece), who are little known outside their own countries. And finally there are local saints, commemorated only in one place or local region, like the Irish saints of old and also like St Sophrony. He is a local saint.

Interestingly, after going through an early Russian phase, then a Greek phase, St Sophrony’s convent (?) in Tolleshunt Knights in Essex is now going through a Romanian phase, with 25 Romanian nuns and a Romanian deacon. This binds it and us in Colchester even closer together.

Q: Thank you.

Q and A April 2023

Q: Why are women not allowed to become deacons or priests in the Orthodox Church?

A: Please read the Bible and do not listen to the secular world! Christ chose men as His disciples and future apostles. Since He Who overturned all the regulations of the pharisees in the greatest revolution in human history, but did not overturn the natures of man and woman, which, after all, He Himself had created, it is clear that a male priesthood is Divinely ordained. Women have another role. That role is set by the Mother of God, veneration for whom is quite absent among Protestants, from where this fantasy of a female priesthood comes. Indeed, they disrespect her and blaspheme, claiming that she had several children.

This whole story of wanting a female priesthood comes from clericalism, the false concept that somehow clergy are superior to laypeople. This is absurd for real Orthodox, though it is true among heterodox.

Q: Do you agree that the Second Vatican Council threw out the baby with the bathwater?

A: I do not agree at all. The problem of the Second Vatican Council was precisely that it threw out the baby, but kept the bathwater. It rejected the sense of the sacred under the weight of American Protestantism/secularism, but hung onto the bathwater of anti-Biblical absurdities like the filioque, papism, compulsory clerical celibacy, indulgences etc

Q:  I know an ex-Catholic who was received into the Church by chrismation three years ago, but now wants to be received by baptism. How would you answer him?

A: Firstly, he should read the Creed: ‘I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins’. Secondly, he should consider whether he is not blaspheming against the communion he has been receiving for the last three years by demanding what would in effect be rebaptism. This is because whatever was missing in the rite of baptism he underwent as a Catholic, it has been made up for by the grace of reception into the Church and holy communion. Finally, thousands of Catholics are received into the Church by chrismation every year and with the blessing of Orthodox bishops. They are quite happy with this and always have been. Why is he different? In general, I think this very insecure man who is so attached to external rites needs to see a psychologist, not a theologian. My decades of experience tell me that all such people end up outside the Church because they do not want to belong to the Church, but to a proud sect.

Q: How do you receive old calendarists into the Church?

A: In principle we have to recognise that old calendarists existed primarily because of the apostasy and compromises of ‘canonical’ bishops. They are the ones responsible for scandalising these little ones, those of simple faith. Therefore, old calendarist laypeople are received by confession and communion because they have been misled and lied to, taken into sects, hoodwinked and exploited. As regards old calendarist clergy, a bishop must decide how he will receive them. Most of the laypeople have been misled by clergy. As for clergy, there are various issues. Some are careerists and want titles, depravity or money, which they could never get in a canonical Church because there they had been seen through and could not ‘rise’ any further. Others are very proud pharisees. Others are sincere and have just been misled. Bishops will decide.

Q: There are more Russian Orthodox in England under Constantinople, Romania, the Ukrainian Church or under old calendarists than there are under the Russian Church. Why are there more Russian Orthodox in England who are not under any of the three parts of the Russian Church than are under them?

A: I am not sure about your statistics, but you may be right. Apart from the two London churches, one of which is very small, the Russian Orthodox Church is now virtually inexistent in these islands apart from the chapels in Oxford and Norwich and a few tiny communities of a dozen or so elsewhere.

The answer to your question is that people in England do not accept tyranny. Those who follow the reflexes of German-style dictatorship, Russian-style subservience or American-style sectarian intolerance (‘since I can’t have complete control as I want, I will throw everything out of my pram and destroy everything’, just like arrogant and destructive spoilt-brat GIs in Vietnam or Iraq) are alien to us. Look what happened to the Normans, Cromwell, Thatcher and Johnson. Tyrants do not prosper here. Freedom is the culture of England and we will not renounce it because of foreign tyranny.

In our own case, the few people who left us last year, most of them occasional or hobby Orthodox, all left because of their nationalism. They used to come to church to speak their own language, not for communion with Christ. Their departure amounted to a cleansing of the Church.

Q: In what cases can you leave a bishop?

A: There are three cases: Either when he openly preaches heresy, or else when he creates a schism by breaking communion and refusing to concelebrate with another canonical Church or even part of his own Church, or else when he behaves immorally (stealing money, homosexual practice or any other uncanonical activity, such as freemasonry). In any case, there is no point in the bishop being told (perhaps by a gay mafia of fellow-bishops) that he must investigate himself after such a charge has been made and allowing him to intimidate and bully everyone. Strangely enough, he will find himself perfect and that everyone is very happy with his conduct. This is why such bishops are given the title, ‘His Disgrace’.

Q: How do schismatic bishops who ‘defrock’ canonical priests of other Local Churches sleep at night?

A: Sadly, they sleep very well because they do not have a conscience. But woe betide them on that day when their conscience is awoken. Especially if that day is the Day of the Last Judgement. They will find that they have defrocked themselves, that is, deprived themselves of grace.

Q: Do you have a favourite film?

A: I think there are several films that I like. I always liked ‘The Sound of Music’, which is about a family of singers who escaped the clutches of Nazis by fleeing over the mountains. It is a bit personal, since we escaped the Nazis by escaping to the Romanian Carpathians and thus our churches were saved from closure, just as in the Ukraine today churches have to be saved from Nazis and be saved from closure.

Q: What does it mean when people are called controversial?

A: In the UK ‘controversial’ is code for ‘opposed to the Establishment’. (In the USA the Establishment is known as the ‘Deep State’). Thus, people are dubbed ‘controversial’ or TV programmes or views are called ‘controversial’. In history by far the most ‘controversial’ person is Christ, for he rejected the scribes (intellectuals) and pharisees (corrupt and hypocritical high priests), the men of law (who had no love) and the banksters (‘the moneychangers’).

Q: What is your suggestion to solve the territorial disputes between the Local Orthodox Churches?

A: The following answer is just my suggestion. Obviously, I have no influence whatsoever.

At the end of 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved into fifteen independent republics. The Moscow Patriarchate (MP) remained, however, undissolved, not just inside those different Republics, but all over the world. Over thirty years on, it is clear that such a highly centralised and therefore basically nationalistic structure, which was essentially a Soviet product, is not designed for long life. Already there are schisms from it in Estonia, Lithuania, the Ukraine and serious tensions in Latvia (where, curiously, the State has forced the Church to become ‘autocephalous’) and in Belarus. The politics of Russian and local nationalism play the major roles.

The more sinister-minded say that decentralisation has not occurred because the Centre in Moscow wanted to retain its size, power, prestige and money. Others say that it was simply because Orthodox in the countries outside Russia were not ready for independence. We consider that such polemics are not really relevant here. Let us stick to the facts. All we know is that following the parallel dissolution of the Russian Empire in 1917, almost exactly 75 years before the dissolution of the USSR, Orthodox in Poland and Czechoslovakia also eventually received autocephaly and Orthodox in Finland received a sort of autonomy. And after 1945 groups exiled from the Ukraine and Belarus uncanonically gave themselves a long-unrecognised autocephaly. All we know is that disputes about territories are unbecoming for Christians. It all seems like childish disputes about toys. We do not recall disputes between the apostles about whose church belonged to whom.

Certainly, a decentralised MP, renamed the Russian Orthodox Church, still with at least 100 million baptised faithful, half of all Orthodox Christians on the planet, would remain as the Church of the Russian Federation. But outside it, there could surely be set up fully independent (Autocephalous) Churches on territories where Orthodoxy is well-established and which are not shared with other Local Churches, and independent (Autonomous) Churches, led by a Metropolitan, on territories which are shared with other Local Churches and where the Faith is less well-established. It is our suggestion that there should be another five Autocephalous Churches, whose territories and traditions have for centuries been part of the Russian Orthodox world (approximate numbers of baptised given in brackets) and which all already have at least four bishops:

Five New Autocephalous Churches:

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (20 million?). Its exact territory is yet to be established, but it would include at the very least half of the pre-2022 Ukraine.

Belarussian Orthodox Church (6 million?)

Moldovan Orthodox Church (3.5 million?)

Central Asian Orthodox Church, covering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (3 million?)

Baltic Orthodox Church, covering Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland (500,000?). All parishes in Finland which wish to celebrate Easter on the canonical Orthodox Paschalia could join this Church.

(Orthodox in the two remaining former Soviet Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan could be cared for by the Georgian Orthodox Church).

This would bring the total number of universally-recognised (if we include the Macedonian) Autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches from 15 to 20, with the approximate present size of their baptised flocks given in brackets:

Russia (100 million), Romania (18.8 million), Greece (10 million), Serbia 8 million), Bulgaria (4.5 million), Georgia (3.5 million), Constantinople (3.1 million), Antioch (3 million), Macedonia (1.3 million), Cyprus (0.65 million), Poland (0.6 million), Alexandria (0.5 million), Albania (0.2 million), Czechoslovakia (0.17 million), Jerusalem (0.13 million) and the above five.

There could also be 6 New Autonomous Churches, making 8 in all. These could be founded by the Russian Church, but their numbers would be small until they could achieve full potential growth to include Orthodox of all origins on their shared territories and have at least four bishops. Only then could they receive autocephaly, which would have to be granted in concert by all the Local Churches concerned. The figures given in brackets show only their initial potential, if they could unite all baptised Orthodox already living on the territories concerned. Their later potential is huge, but that would demand genuine missionaries, not politicians:

Eight Autonomous Churches – together with the Japanese (10,000) and Chinese (100?), which already exist:

European Orthodox Church (potentially 7 million?). This would cover 23 territories: Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Andorra, Italy and San Marino. This could in time become the fifth largest Local Orthodox Church after the Serbian.

Northern American Orthodox Church (potentially 5 million?). This would cover USA, Canada, Greenland, Bermuda and would initially replace the present OCA, ROCOR and MP North America parishes.

Latin American Orthodox Church (potentially 2 million?). This would cover the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of the Americas and the largely Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Oceanian Orthodox Church (potentially 600,000?)

African Orthodox Church (potentially 500,000?)

South-East Asian Orthodox Church (potentially 25,000?). This would replace the present South-East Asian Exarchate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Parable: The Icon

Over 2,000 years ago God came down to Earth from Heaven to visit His Creation. This much needed His help, as it had chosen all the wrong ways and was in great turmoil. God stayed for several years, left many words of wisdom that were written down. He was much persecuted, though He performed extraordinary miracles and even the miracle of Resurrection, conquering Death. As a farewell gift he left everyone an icon of Himself. Since then people have done various things with the icon:

  1. Some sold their icon in order to make some money.
  2. Some did not take care of the icon and lost it.
  3. Some did not like the icon and painted over it.
  4. Some let the icon get very dirty, so now you can hardly see it.
  5. Some put the icon in a big frame and took great care of the frame, but forgot the icon itself.
  6. Some painted foreign words on the icon and said that it showed their national god.
  7. Some used the icon as a weapon and starting hitting people over the head with it.
  8. Some kept the icon and revere it exactly as it is.

Which group do you belong to?

 

On the First Anniversary

The following wide-ranging compilation of nearly 4,000 words provides answers to several questions posed over the last twelve months by various correspondents. Here those answers are made public on this, the first anniversary of our life within the Patriarchate of Romania and among its saints.

 

Q: Was it difficult for all your parishes to transfer to the Romanian Orthodox Church on 16 February 2022?

A: No, it was very simple, very straightforward. The negotiations with the Metropolitan and the Patriarchal canonists took only four hours. The letters of reception were issued two days later and are available for all to see and the antimensia singed by Vladyka were issued ten days later. All was clear and the correctness of our reception was only confirmed by the contrary reactions and astonishing untruths told by certain individuals in ROCOR and even in the MP after our departure in the two weeks that followed, namely that we had not in fact been received! Metr Joseph was very shocked by that. Those untruths totally discredited their authors and the websites they operate.

I am afraid to say that ROCOR now does not have a good reputation among the Local Churches. Other Local Churches know what it has become and are happy to accept persecuted clergy and churches from ROCOR, providing that the vast majority of the people in the parishes want such a transfer. Our vast majority was 4,853 for and 15 (very naïve) people against. Of those 15, most only came to church from time to time and were not listed as parishioners. Tragically, one was persuaded not to come because a certain bishop, under political control, told her not to come here. The result of this is that she has deprived herself of Church life.

Q: Has anyone come back after leaving you?

A: Only one person. She said that she had been misled and was very regretful. But we welcomed her back with open arms and do not mention her mistake to her.

Q: Has the loss of 15 people affected you financially?

A: Collections have increased by over 20% since they left. This is probably because they have been replaced by 47 new parishioners. In order of numbers and nationality these are Russians, Moldovans, Romanians and Ukrainians.

Q: Had you thought of transferring to other Local Churches other than the Romanian?

A: We had not, but they had! We received various offers, but there was only one place we wanted to go after being forced to leave the Russian Church, and that was the Romanian Church, which is outside both Greek/American Democrat politics and Russian/American Republican politics.

Q: What fundamentally forced over half of the English Diocese of the Russian Church Outside Russia to leave it after decades of faithfulness? Was it a question of keeping your property, as some have said?

A: The last straw was its uncanonical actions and schism even with part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Now all that is left is the London Russian parish and a tiny set of mainly convert-run groups outside London with a total of under 200 people in them all told.

Q: Who forced you to leave the Russian Church?

A: Our departure happened through, but not because of, our old family friend, the then 78-year old Metr Jean Renneteau in Paris, although he himself very much wanted to keep us, as he has confirmed in several phone-calls over the last six months. He was very sad to lose us and wants us back. It was all against his will. Let you remind you that it was Metr Jean, whom we backed to the hilt, who finally brought 57%, the non-masonic part, of his Archdiocese, the part where we always had family, close friends and allies, out of schism back to the Russian Orthodox Church. His feat has gone down in history and we greeted it enthusiastically at the time in 2018, as you can read on this site.

However, to get back to the answer to your question, the problem was his superior, who is younger than our three eldest children! It was he who forced Metr Jean to abandon us against the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church, for purely political reasons. When he was informed that if he forced all 16 clerics and their parishes out, we would all go to the Patriarchate of Romania, he replied: ‘Too bad for them’. He had no interest in keeping us because we were not Russian. That is very significant.

For it means that the Russian Church in its present form does not want to do missionary work, does not respect or want to keep its clergy and people, even after a lifetime of unpaid service. It wants to disunite and scatter, rather than to gather together, to destruct rather than to construct. This is suicidal on its part because it means that there is no point in anyone joining or being part of the authentic millennial Russian Orthodox Church, especially those who follow its real Tradition, speak fluent Russian and are its greatest friends!

This is the end for the Russian Orthodox Church anywhere outside Russia and, for the moment, Belarus, for many years to come, depending on the new Patriarch. The Church as it is now will only attract the naïve, who will soon fall away once they see through it, or else right-wing converts with illusions. They were not even born when we were living Orthodoxy in the times of Martyrdom for the Faith and Confession of the Faith in the Soviet Union.

Q: 16 February marks the first anniversary of the transfer of the ‘mini-diocese’ of which you are part, from the Russian Church to the Patriarchate of Romania. Apart from no longer being in schism, what are the differences you have noticed?

A: I think I can sum it all up in just one word: Freedom. For example, in order of the least important to the most important:

Firstly, we can now use our own liturgical English and do not have to use American. So we are no longer being forced to use a foreign language and can carry on using the same liturgical language as we have always used for the last fifty years before others were even born! So we are not being forced to renounce the Tradition, as was definitely the case before.

Secondly, all our websites can operate freely, without censorship. Censorship and threats to free speech are over.

Thirdly, we can now do missionary activity, we are no longer prevented from doing so, with the result that we have already opened two new parishes in the past year and have hopes of opening others elsewhere, especially in the Midlands. Our main problem is lack of funds, so here we appeal to all those who support us to help with fund-raising.

Fourthly, we can now follow in everything the legacy of the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, who ordained me to the priesthood in 1991 after seven years serving as a deacon and which represents the old multinational ROCOR, the ROCOR of Orthodox Tradition, the Russian Orthodox Church, and not some administrative divisions of it made up over the last century. We so knew and loved the real Russian Orthodox Church so well, but it no longer exists. Archbishop Antony had under him the then only Romanian parish in Paris, which of course was on the new calendar. (In those days, there were several new calendar Orthodox parishes in ROCOR, even in the USA, and that raised no problems).

Now the favour is being returned with what is basically a multinational Russian/Moldovan deanery under the Romanian Church. This means that we are on the old calendar, but if some want to do services on the new calendar, that is possible. Though it does not interest me personally, I can understand that for some it may be important and I say: Please go ahead. It is a pastoral matter. We have Vladyka Joseph’s blessing. All this expresses the spirit of the future Local Church, and not of some ghetto-sect. There is no room for micro-management in such situations, you have to be broader-minded.

In general, I think this freedom to live as normal Orthodox comes from the fact that we are no longer held under by converts, who have only been Orthodox for a few years and are so insecure in the faith that they hold to rigid manmade rules, which nobody else holds to, including in the Moscow Patriarchate. One of the things that recent and inexperienced converts do not realise is that Love is much greater than narrow manmade rules, which are only guidelines.

Their disease is called convertitis, you know that defensive narrowness and headborne dryness of spirit that can also come from doctorates. That disease belongs to the pharisees, who think too much. It has become common in parts of ROCOR, where before it never existed, especially since about 2016. It is what Fr Seraphim Rose fought against in California – for that was and is where the evil began and is spreading from – in the 1970s, quite rightly calling it ‘super-correctness’. It is sounding brass. Now we are in communion with all and are not threatened by the sectarian trends and schismatic pressures of before.

Then, of course, already by Divine Providence in the Romanian Patriarchate, we avoided all the politics connected with the American-Russian war in the Ukraine, which reflects so badly on the Russian Orthodox Church because of its political involvement through its centralisation. At the time several of us said that we had ‘got the last flight out of Kabul’. We have Russians and Ukrainians in our churches, as well as many other nationalities. We can welcome all to our churches. You don’t have to belong to the grim and depressing, right-wing, Protestant-style, pseudo-Russian group of people who do not speak Russian.

Another thing that worries me is that aggressive Western governments may ban the Russian Church in their countries, as those governments have already done in the Ukraine and Latvia, where the local Orthodox have accepted a de facto (though highly providential) autocephaly of the Church, an independence from the highly centralised Russian Church, even though it may not officially be called ‘autocephaly’. If such a ban does happen in the future, at least we are already out of the mess and so will have been saved from such unpleasant problems and political manipulations. God saved us before time.

Q: What do you think the Russian hierarchy should have done on 24 February 2022?

A: Today is the feast day of St Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to the-Apostles. His icon is one of the twelve on the Colchester church iconostasis. He is the key. When in 1904 Japan, armed to the teeth by the Russophobic Western Powers, attacked an unprepared and unmilitarised Russia, Bishop Nicholas, a Russian living in Tokyo, simply locked himself away and prayed for peace. Here is our model. The Russian Church has to return to its multinational itself.

Q: Do you regret anything in the events around you and ROCOR?

A: For us, not at all. All this was the best possible thing that could have happened in those circumstances and all on the eve of that terrible war. For ROCOR, however, I regret greatly.

After the reconciliation with the rest of the Russian Church in 2007, which I witnessed and I had worked towards for decades, ROCOR for a period of about ten years enjoyed unprecedented global prestige in the Orthodox world. We were the Church which had canonised the New Martyrs, the Church which had been the politically-free voice of the Russian Church during its Soviet captivity, we were the Church of the Faithful Confessors, of St John of Shanghai, we had returned to communion with all and were welcomed and thanked for our witness. We received grace. The potential to help develop missions and work towards Local Churches, co-operating with other politically-free Orthodox, was there. Icons gave off myrrh in those days. Today it is a very different story. The acquisition of grace, which St Seraphim of Sarov explained is our aim, has been replaced by the acquisition of money, power and property.

Instead of nurturing that grace and co-operating with others, the grace was step by step misused and abused amid the sectarian spirit of exclusivism. This excluded even the then First Hierarch Metr Hilarion, well before his dementia. As a result, ROCOR is now mainly becoming a historical footnote as the American Synod, which is being even further discredited by the Belya affair, yet another affair of forged signatures. ROCOR has voluntarily Sovietised itself. It is very important to understand that this was all voluntary, it was never forced on ROCOR by Moscow. Certain figures are not so much interested in humility, fasting, poverty and prayer, as in power, luxury, money and property. The problem is lack of pastors. Some have been replaced by bureaucrats, ‘effective managers’, as the Russian jargon goes.

Its hope of survival in Northern America today is in being absorbed into the Moscow-founded OCA, which is about five times bigger. That is what Moscow wants and it is logical. Outside Northern America, ROCOR hardly exists in Latin America, where forty years ago it had, if I remember rightly, six dioceses. As for the thirty or so parishes of Australian ROCOR, they will now have to follow the fate of the Indonesian Mission which ROCOR handed over wholesale to Moscow. It abandoned its mission there, the same as it did here, only here to the Romanians. Australian ROCOR may as well become part of a new Autonomous Church, but under Moscow and linked up with its South-East Asian Exarchate.

Q: What about the ROCOR churches in Western Europe? There are still nearly 90 parishes or small communities there.

A: In Western Europe ROCOR is only really present in Western Germany and Switzerland. In the other Western European countries there is only a handful of parishes and communities, one, two or at most three in each country, if any at all. There is nothing in Scandinavia and Portugal has now been abandoned. In Spain there is one tiny convert group, in Italy there are two parishes on the French border and hardly anything is left in the Netherlands and France. Logically, the ROCOR parishes in Germany, which are in any case mainly peopled and clergied by expatriates from the ex-Soviet Union (and a few convert groups, with often fewer than 10 or at most 20 members) should join Moscow.

This is what Moscow asked for five years ago in exchange for its parishes in the Americas to be given to ROCOR. Sadly, ROCOR refused, missing the boat, the once in a lifetime offer, which will probably not be made again. Then it claimed that it will not join up with Moscow for 50-100 years! Moscow was very angry with the individual who said that. Moscow looks on Western Europe as its territory, as an integral part of Eurasia.

However, the situation has become very complex in Western Europe since the war in the Ukraine, as most of the Moscow parishes are themselves peopled by Ukrainians and especially Moldovans, as in Italy (70 out of 72 parishes). With over thirty new canonical Ukrainian parishes independent of Moscow in Western Europe founded in the last nine months and the possible mass defection of Moldovans to the Romanian Church, as is beginning to happen in Moldova itself and has in fact happened in England, it is difficult to see a future for the Moscow Exarchate. Russian nationalism rules and that means isolationism, being in communion with no-one. It is returning to the times of its tiny Exarchate of Soviet patriots of the 60s and 70s and the war in the Ukraine has isolated Most of the faithful have left its new Cathedral in Paris. Security men frisk you as you go in, as in an airport. I am told that congregations number about thirty. Even my friend Nikita, the very Russian nephew of the late Archbishop Basil Krivoshein, has left.

Q: Surely you regret having to leave the Russian Orthodox Church after nearly fifty years?

A: You misunderstand. We never left the Russian Orthodox Church, that is, we never left the spiritual world of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is part of the whole Orthodox world. All that happened is that we were forced to leave the administrative world, the bureaucracy, of the Russian Church. We are exactly the same as before and continue as before. Nothing has changed. When the administrative world with its protocols frees itself of politics and the spiritual world takes over once more, as it will, and sooner than some think after President Putin, then we shall see what will be decided. The mess will end and the injustices will be sorted out, but not yet. Then those who swim with the tide will swim in the opposite direction, as we have seen so many times before. In Russia they still have many things to suffer in repentance for the Soviet period.

Q: Did you know that your faith would be challenged in this way?

A: In September 2020, we went to Mt Athos to see the clairvoyant Fr Evthimios, the closest disciple of St Paisios the Athonite, whom I met in 1979 together with the ever-memorable Fr Ephraim of Arizona. We met him at the skete where he had built the first ever church dedicated to St Paisios and asked him what we should do, given the internal persecution against us. He said he would send me an answer. In May 2021, after the ROCOR schism had begun, I received a message from him and that was: ‘Do not fear the courts of men. Your case will be decided in the highest court’. And this is exactly what we did and exactly what has happened.

Q: You set up a church in Norfolk and two churches in Cambridgeshire for the people there. So effectively the Colchester parish is for Orthodox in Essex and Suffolk, your home counties, the other two counties in the East of England. Do you still visit Orthodox outside these counties?

A: Of course, I do. I visit my parishioners in many parts of the country among all those rendered Churchless by the absence of Church life which pervades the spiritual desert of modern England. Not just the new and young, but also the old, including the grandchildren of those who came here after 1917, who as adults had known the old Russia. Their parents departed over the last generation, so these grandchildren of emigres are now themselves elderly. These are the people who, like me, knew the traditional ROCOR priests like Fr George Sheremetiev (+ 1971), Fr Alexander Trubnikov (+ 1988) and Fr Mikhail Artsimovich (+ 2003). (Fr George was the one who advised the late Timothy Ware not to join ROCOR because it was being ‘taken over’.

Like them, my godfather, Nikolai Mikhailovich Zernov (+ 1980), however much I disagreed with him, would never have accepted the present situation. Even someone like the equally liberal, non-ROCOR Metr Antony Bloom (+ 2003), despite his well-known human weaknesses which scandalised so many, must be spinning in his grave at what is going on in the Russian Church today. Several of his disciples, for example in Amsterdam and Madrid, have actually left the Russian Church or been suspended by it and his disciple Metr Hilarion (Alfeev) has been exiled to Budapest. He would have been exiled also. As for the equally liberal, late Metr Kallistos (Ware), you can imagine….

In the days of the traditional ROCOR, there were no converts who wanted to rebaptise everyone. You know, the ones who are more Orthodox than the Orthodox, but have no idea that Orthodoxy is Christianity, just an exotic sectarian cult with its cultish podcast and zoom gurus. In the old days, there were few ill-educated, ritualist clergy with superstitions, money-grubbing, politics and phariseeism with as much spiritual refinement and subtlety as a Soviet tank, incapable of confessing or preaching. Lumps of cast iron against antique timepieces.

I recently visited and gave communion to just such a Russian daughter of White emigres in Esher in Surrey, who gave a lot of money in the 1990s to help build the church in Chiswick (like the late Golitsyns), but received bad treatment there. I knew her mother in Paris and have known her and her family for 35 years. Like so many rather aristocratic Russian émigré women, her mother, a child in pre-1917 Russia, became a seamstress in Paris in the 1930s. After the war she had opened her own fashion house and had the Audrey Hepburn elegance, style and class that no longer seems to exist anywhere today, though her daughter has inherited it:  ‘Elegance is the only beauty that never fades’. No botox and tooth-whitening for such people, unlike several Orthodox bishops and priests of all jurisdictions in California.

A spiritual daughter of the wonderful Fr Alexander Trubnikov from Tsarskoe Selo and Meudon, but now deprived of the Church, she talks to God in her garden. That is where she can pray. There are churches, but she cannot go to them, some people who control them are unChristian. But she remains Christian, Orthodox Christian.

Q: Were you hurt by the slanders against you?

A: No. Our first reaction was one of astonishment. Next came laughter at the attempts to manipulate the naive and ignorant who did not know us. These were so ridiculous. The came sadness that people who called themselves Christians could do such things, their souls full of hatred, covetousness and above all jealousy. All this only discredited their authors. It is called the boomerang effect. They reflect very badly on those who issued them. Did they really think that such novel New World manipulations could work among experienced Orthodox in old Europe?

Q: How would you sum up what happened to you last year?

A: I would say that ROCOR fell into a trap of its own making, it was put to the test and failed. In 2007 it was given an opportunity to behave like Christians, but instead, the culprits revealed who they are (both the ones in ROCOR and the few others elsewhere who repeated the untruths of ROCOR). We know their names. The internet knows their names. And above all God knows their names.

It is a tragic warning that if you desert God, He will desert you. And that is what is happening to it through its self-discrediting. The waste of potential is enormous. God gave them everything and they squandered it. What must St John of Shanghai be thinking of this spiritual suicide? Like the apostles, we have shaken the dust off our feet and moved on. May God grant them to know love for others before they reach their death-beds. I tremble in their place. But this is how the Church is cleansed.

Q: Do you feel as though this chapter is closed and you can slowly retire?

A: Now you make me laugh! That chapter was closed a year ago, but slowly retiring?! You haven’t seen anything yet. There is so much more to do. If God grants me life to do it all. The pastoral catastrophe in this country is such that I need another fifty years to contribute towards remedying it just in my little corner. I have only just started!

16 February 2023