Category Archives: St John of Shanghai

2017: On the Spiritual Significance of the Church Outside Russia

On the eve of 2017, the centenary year of the catastrophic Russian Revolution and a decade since the triumphant reunion between the Patriarchal Church inside Russia and the emigre Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in 2007, we may wonder what will become of the heritage of the Russian emigration of 1917? After all, the generation of adults that emigrated into exile in and soon after 1917 has long since died out and we are now onto the generation of their great-great-grandchildren. In Church terms, this emigration, almost wholly rejecting the compromised authority of the then enslaved Church inside Russia, consists not just of ROCOR, but also of the small Paris splinter group. What will survive spiritually from the two parts of the Russian emigration?

The tiny Paris Archdiocese part of the emigration, perhaps 10% of the whole, survives. However, as a splinter group of dissident and disincarnate philosophers, intellectuals and aristocrats that went into schism from the Russian Church for political reasons 85 years ago, it has long been without Russian bishops because of its inherent anti-monasticism. It is tending to become a sub-group of untrained convert clergy wishing to become a tiny ‘French Orthodox Church’, though some in it imagine becoming a ‘Western European Orthodox Church’. But that is megalomania. The group often reflects Schmemannite modernism, ecumenism and liberal French Catholicism (i.e. Protestantism), having steadily abandoned the Russian Orthodox Tradition.

True, there are still a few faithful, Orthodox calendar parishes run by priests mainly imported from Russia and the Ukraine and some selected Russian customs remain, though with little understanding of their meaning. The tendency is to try and proselytize middle-class liberal intellectuals, sometimes with contempt for ordinary people, an ethos that also used to infect parts of the OCA in North America and renovationist groups in the Soviet-period Patriarchate of Moscow. The Archdiocese generally tends to cut corners, failing to observe the canons and attract cradle Orthodox, whom as a non-inclusive group it rejects. Certainly it attracts none who is anchored in the Tradition.

However, the overwhelming majority of the emigration, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), exists outside France and French philosophical intellectualism, mainly in North America, Australasia and Western Europe. As such it has from the start been responsible for much missionary and translation work in many languages. Without the protection of any State it has in its near-100 year history also been subject to many slanders, mockery and persecution for its faithfulness to the Tradition. It has often been the voice crying in the wilderness of Secularist materialism, whether Communist or Capitalist, witnessing and prophetically calling like the Forerunner and Baptist John to repentance before the apocalyptic events of the last century.

However, it is also true that in the past parts of ROCOR were also compromised and infected by Russian nationalism, excessive strictness to the point of negative phariseeism and depressing right-wing politics – some fringe elements were even so blind as to support Hitler. However, the best of ROCOR has been revealed as a Church of Confessors and Missionaries, as in its three saints: St Jonah of Hankou, St Seraphim of Sofia and St John of Shanghai. Moreover, further saints are yet to be revealed. Whatever the future shape of the present administrative structures of ROCOR, these saints have given ROCOR eternal significance, as only the saints can do, as everything else gathers the dust of history, being only passing fashion and political intrigue.

Ten years ago, in 2007, seeing the Church inside Russia at last free, ROCOR rejoined Her and in the last ten years the two parts of the Church have worked closely together. Some therefore ask why does ROCOR still exist? The answer is simple: we have a mission to witness to the Orthodox Truth specifically outside Russia. When in the past the Church inside Holy Rus was enslaved and fell silent, with the representatives of the Soviet-period Patriarchate abroad mostly abandoning ideals, sometimes disgracefully compromising themselves in renovationism, ecumenism and other ills, ROCOR spoke out. So also today ROCOR continues to proclaim outside Russia what the best of the rest of the Church proclaims inside Russia – the ideals of Holy Rus. What are these?

These ideals are Trinitarian, reflecting on earth the heavenly reality of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These Christian ideals can be expressed as: Faith, Throne and People, that is, the Orthodox Faith, the Christian Emperor, the Faithful. All three go together. If any one element is compromised, then all three are compromised. Thus, if we reject the Orthodox Faith, we do not build the Christian Empire among the People, as has happened in the Western world. If we reject the Incarnation of the Christian Empire, we fail to reflect the Faith in the Father and fail to preach the values of the Holy Spirit among the People, as has happened in disincarnate Parisian philosophy. And if the People lose the Orthodox Faith, there will be no Empire, as happened in 1917.

Just as we cannot have the Father without the Son and the Holy Spirit, so we confess all three of these ideals of Holy Rus together. This means that we are called on to proclaim the uncorrupted Orthodox Faith of the Church (the Father), the restoration of the Incarnate Christian Empire and Emperor (the Son) and that we call all the peoples of the world to join us (the Holy Spirit), as St Seraphim of Sarov prophesied nearly 200 years ago. These are the Trinitarian Orthodox Civilizational values of the Returning Christian Empire which is coming soon. Thus, we clergy and people of ROCOR are the free and conscious servants of the Faith and People of the Tsar-Martyr, called on to reverse the treason of 1917 and its disastrous worldwide consequences.

Three Hundred Years of Russian Orthodoxy in the British Isles and Ireland

The 300-year old Russian Orthodox presence in the British Isles and Ireland was for 200 years of that time limited to that of an Embassy church in London. Although occasional interest would be shown by an individual or there would be an Anglo-Russian marriage, Non-Russians, especially outside London, never knew that such a church existed. However, with the Anglo-Franco-Russian alliance of the First World War, more and more Russians came to work in London for the war effort. By 1916 Metropolitan Pitirim (Oknov) of Saint Petersburg, who was then responsible for churches outside Russia, was drawing up plans to build a Russian Orthodox church in London. Translations of some Orthodox service books had already been made into English by Orlov and, in the USA, by Hapgood. This progress was all interrupted by the 1917 Revolution, but that in turn brought some 2,000 Russian refugee-émigrés to London and the surrounding area.

This resulted in the consecration of a bishop for the Russian community in London, Bishop Nicholas (Karpov). Sadly, he fell ill when very young and after only three years he reposed in 1932. The hopes of the first Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), that he would be able to present the Russian Orthodox Faith to English people were unrealized. In 1937 the former English Tutor of the Tsarevich Aleksey, the Yorkshireman Sidney Gibbes, returned to England from the Far East. By then he had not only joined the Orthodox Church but had been ordained as Fr Nicholas Gibbes (+ 1963), the first 20th century English Orthodox priest, bearing the name of the martyred Tsar. An academic by temperament, he opened an Orthodox chapel in Oxford. After 1945 several thousand Russians, mainly from pre-war Poland, what is now the western Ukraine and Belarus, came to England and many settled in the north of England. A new chapter in our history had begun.

Archbishop (later St) John (Maximovich) (+ 1966), based on the Continent, looked after most of the faithful, but by 1954 those in the North had their own Bishop Nikodim (Nagaev) of Preston, who later became Archbishop in London (+ 1976). Meanwhile, in 1957 the small Patriarchal parish in London obtained a bishop in the future Metr Antony (Bloom) (+ 2003), who was to become well-known to Anglicans and others through his talks and books and also radio and TV appearances. By the 1960s, with the old certainties gone and doubts about everything, numbers of English people, mostly Anglicans, began to show an interest in the Russian Orthodox Church. This seemed to them to have far more continuity of Tradition than more recently-appeared varieties of Protestantism (including Anglicanism) or Roman Catholicism. Many Anglicans were attracted to the personality of the English-speaking Metr Antony, who set up a tiny network of communities, called the Sourozh Diocese. Witness was greatly helped by the fact that churches were then beginning to conduct services in English. At first this was only in London and Oxford, where the only permanent churches and chapels existed, but it has since spread.

Today, fifty years on, there are Russian Orthodox churches all over the British Isles and Ireland, though only a few of them in permanent buildings that belong to Russian Orthodoxy and celebrating regular services. Moreover, a majority of Russian Orthodox clergy are natives of the British Isles. Long gone are the days when just to witness a Russian Orthodox service you had to go to one of the two London churches or to the chapel in Oxford, indeed the largest Russian Orthodox church building in the country is elsewhere. With the immigration of Russian Orthodox, mainly from the countries of the ex-Soviet Union, and the immigration of other Orthodox from Eastern Europe over the last fifteen years especially, we now need to expand rapidly. There remains a huge amount to do. In the meantime, a small but steady stream of native people from all four countries of the British Isles and Ireland, continues to come to our services and some join the Church, attracted by our faithfulness to the bimillennial Orthodox Christian Tradition.

Thus, we can see that our 300-year old history can be divided into three distinct periods. The first lasted 200 years – the period as an Embassy church in London. The second that lasted 50 years was a London-centred period of survival and consolidation and pastoral care for Russian speakers. The third which began after 250 years of presence and which has lasted 50 years so far, has been a period of openness to the surrounding world, a period of witness and expansion throughout these islands. Our future place and role in these islands is precisely to continue to expand and witness to the Orthodox Tradition and Faith, not just for our own people, whose children and descendants are English-speaking and locally educated, but for those who seek – and find – spiritual comfort in partaking of the roots and origins of Christianity in the Faith and Tradition of our worldwide, multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox Church.