Since at least the 1970s, there has been talk of founding a Local Church in various parts of Western Europe, especially in France under the Fraternite Orthodoxe, but also in Great Britain and, strangely enough, in faraway Turkey.
The Continental Fantasists
French intellectualism, expressed mainly by descendants of Russian aristocrats, freemasons and dreamers in the Rue Daru emigration of those who had betrayed the Tsar, proposed a Paris-centred (how could it be otherwise in the land of Napoleon?) Jurisdiction. Naturally, they themselves would be in power. Their models were political – the deeply-troubled OCA and the highly controversial parishes in Finland under Constantinople. Lost in clouds of philosophy, they expressed words and not deeds and forgot that such a Jurisdiction would need the canonical support of at least one Patriarchate, financial backing from the grassroots and also an infrastructure in the form of a property network of monasteries and parishes.
Of course, it never had any of these and today has no candidates even to be its next bishop after the present 75-year old ex-Catholic Archbishop Jean. Neither the Patriarchate of Constantinople nor anyone else was ever going to support autocephaly for such a tiny and inward-looking group. Financial backing to any appreciable extent was quite absent. And one Rue Daru parish or family after another returned to the Russian Church, went bankrupt, fell into disrepair or simply closed down, forcing the ever smaller group to rely on rented premises. The whole arrogant project, not passed on to the following generation, isolated from the Orthodox mainstream and marred by aggressive new calendarism and ecumenism which mocked the values of faithful Orthodox, seemed more like just another irrelevant sub-department of the Vatican’s Uniat fantasy. Perhaps it was.
The Anglican Fantasists
So much for the navel-gazing in Continental Western Europe. In Great Britain, actually England, insularist Anglican academic Establishmentism proposed a ‘British Orthodox Church’. Made up largely of elderly upper middle-class people, retired vicars and academics, with direct or indirect links to the Rue Daru elite, its philosophy was equally unreal. Born from the tiny elite of the British Establishment, it took no note at all of the fact that the oppressive Establishment is alien to most people who live in the British Isles, and even more in the inherent geographical part of the Isles, in Ireland. After all, the Establishment is originally a blood-soaked import from the barbaric Norman elite in 1066. This compromised itself successively in the oppression of the English, the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots, and then the rest of the world, in slave-trading and exploitative imperialist genocides. In a word, there is no such thing as Britain. Like ‘the Ukraine’, it is a purely political construct and therefore there can never be any such thing as ‘British Orthodoxy’.
Curiously for academics so closely linked to the failed Rue Daru fantasy, these fantasists never noticed that the number of active Orthodox in the British Isles and Ireland is so small that to build a Local Church here is fantasy. And without canonical backing from a Patriarchate, grassroots financial support from large numbers and property infrastructure, the whole project is impossible. This is why no Local Church has ever contemplated founding an Autocephalous Church in the British Isles. The failure was encapsulated in the city of dreaming spires (and lost causes), Oxford. Here the professorial fantasy of combining different groups of Orthodox, new calendar, old calendar, in a modernist chapel, part-financed by Anglicans, with little to do with ordinary people, came to nothing. I said so in 1975, whereupon the fantasist priest (who was later defrocked) told me that ‘there is no such thing as ordinary people’. Later a dozen or so disgruntled and mainly pensioned-off Anglican vicars, ordained overnight and with little concept of the reality of Orthodoxy and how to do the services, sealed the failure. The fantasy was not passed on to the following generation. Time to move on.
The Turkish Fantasists
With the vast majority of Orthodox in the Russian Church paralysed for most of the twentieth century, but reviving dangerously, in their view, since the official fall of atheism in Moscow in 1991, in Turkey the Greek racist Phanariots panicked. So these pro-LGBT gerontocrats and Young Turks further extended and developed the use of the code-word for Greek Imperialism, ‘Pan-Orthodox’. How could these fantasists justify the universal rule of a non-universal Empire which in any case had been wiped off the face of the earth five and a half centuries before? They spent a large amount of US dollars on a pseudo-Council in Crete and then set about shamelessly invading the canonical territories of other Local Churches, under US State Department orders. (This was instead of sending out missions to the 7.3 billion of the Non-Orthodox world; no doubt they can wait another millennium to hear the Gospel).
However, today Phanariot corruption by embezzlement, bribery and blackmail, has been displayed before the whole world. Their megalomaniac and navel-gazing talking shops, ‘Pan-Orthodox’ Episcopal Assemblies, agreed to by Russian naivety, are now thankfully dead. Phyletist (the Greek word for racist) Greek grandstanding is dead with it. The Papist project of making the whole world into Greek-controlled ‘autonomous’ parts of the absurdly-named, Turkish ‘Oecumenical Patriarchate’ has become the laughing-stock of the whole still Orthodox world. The days of treachery, cowardice and deceit, to use the concise and precise formula of the martyred Tsar Nicholas II, are over. Another fantasy has bitten the dust. So where do we go from here?
One thing is clear: no Local Orthodox Church of Western Europe will ever be built on fantasies. Three such fantasies have been tried and all failed miserably. No more fantasies, just reality. Since the Phanariot project is now well and truly in the dustbin of history, we have to look at the other six Local Churches present in Western Europe. Of these six remaining Orthodox groups in Western Europe, five, the Romanian, Antiochian and Serbian, as well as the tiny Bulgarian and the newly-appeared Georgian, are not going to do anything to promote a Local Church. This is because they are all mononational and have only one interest: preserving their own national identity and national flags. Their outreach, if it exists at all, is virtually only to their own nationality.
Reluctantly, despite the incredible incompetence, frustrating irresponsibility, paranoid centralization, personality cult narcissism, contempt for local people, waste of human resources and alcoholism, there is therefore only one alternative. This, like it or not, is ‘the only show in town’, the Russian Church. Under two administrations, the largest one centred in Moscow thanks to its presence in Italy, Germany, France, Iberia and Scandinavia, this is now setting up an Exarchate, with a group of bishops and a network of parishes, some newly-built. It is early days yet, but this is the only hope – and, actually, long has been. May the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe at last be empowered to take the multinational responsibility for Orthodoxy which it has always so sadly refused and shown itself incapable of.