The formation of new Local Orthodox Churches is inevitable, indeed it began long ago. One day there will be four new Local Churches in the world – for Western Europe, North America, South America and Oceania. This is not a prophecy, it is obvious and has been obvious to me for 45 years. When will they appear? This is a spiritual problem, all we know is that the struggle for them is inevitable. Not, I think, in my lifetime, perhaps not even in my children’s lifetimes, but perhaps in the lifetimes of my grandchildren. The formation of a new Local Church in Western Europe is what I have devoted my life to. I hope that, like many others, I will have contributed something positive, however modest, to its foundations.
The bane of the Church is any attachment to the world and one of the strongest forms of attachment is nationalism. For example, the Jews could not accept Christ because of their attachment to Jewish nationalism as ‘the chosen people’. Then the Copts and the Armenians broke away from the Church because of nationalism, Western Europe broke away because of Western nationalism, inventing self-justifying ‘Roman’ Catholicism, and the future Protestants broke away from them because of Germanic nationalism. The most flagrant form of this nationalism was perhaps ‘the Church of England’, created by a murderous and power-grasping King.
In much more recent times the unity of the Church has been put under great pressure by flag-waving Greek nationalism, called phyletism, although we still await the repentance of the Phanariot episcopate. Nationalism is by definition worldliness and is therefore anti-missionary. God only speaks the language of the nationalists, be it Hebrew, Latin, Greek or other, and as every Victorian Englishman knew, ‘God is an Englishman’. Nationalist groups inevitably die out, as they are assimilated. Instead of obeying the last two verses of the Gospel of Matthew, they refuse to go out and baptise the world, rather trying to steal the flocks of others, as in today’s Ukraine.
The above is a list of examples of what might be called ‘uncanonical nationalism’, for its extremism always leads to schisms and heresies, that is, it leads to being outside the Church. This we can see with the case of the contemporary Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose schism has taken 100 years to prepare. However, there is also nationalism inside the Church, that is, it is ‘canonical’. Though obviously, by definition, more moderate than the extremist form outside the communion of the Church, it is basically imperialist. Its sign is national exclusivism, it will accept others only if they ‘become Greeks’ or ‘become Russians’, for instance.
This imperialism is marked by the imposition of a single language and a single culture, centralisation and bureaucracy. This is inevitably part of a controlling tyranny, of the bullying and intimidation of both clergy and people at the grassroots. By creating fear and injustice, it hopes to obtain the property and wealth of the people, their church buildings. By mistreating the clergy, this imperialist centralism discourages the missionary impulse, often persecuting any missionary initiative in the name of control and ‘protocols’. Such a mentality is death to the soul and death to the spiritual life of the Church: imperialism is always spiritual death.
Imperialism is also by definition an attachment to the world, nationalism, but the other extreme of this nationalism is what may be called ‘Localism’. This is the reaction to centralisation, the splitting movement of disunity in the name of some small country, often an artificial one, which has led over the last 200 years to the formation of a whole series of small, ‘Autocephalous’ Local Churches. The most recent example was that which was formed fifty years ago in North America , with the formation of the tiny ‘OCA’, the Orthodox Church in America, a group which in reality united fewer than 10% of Orthodox in North America, perhaps as few as 5%.
The brainchild and scheme of the very practical and frustrated activist Fr Alexander Schmemann, who had taken power from the academic theoretician Fr George Florovsky, the ideologists of the OCA tried to impose US culture, regardless of its lack of spiritual content, on all. Founded not on Orthodox Christianity, this mentality tried to impose the lowest common denominator of local culture – new calendarism, modernism, anti-monasticism, anti-asceticism and anti-spiritual moralism, at best a watered-down rationalistic intellectualism. However, Christ’s Church is founded not on some local human culture, but on His Universal Gospel made incarnate.
For nearly fifty years now we have battled for authentic Orthodoxy, but specifically in the local language (and not in foreign versions of that language!) and for the honouring of local saints, where they exist, and for local traditions which are not opposed to the Church. We cannot ignore the local language, geography and history, we must consult and not ignore experience. All else is arrogance. What we have observed in the last half-century is that every nationalist formation, whether of imperialist or localist nationalism, has died out. Thus, both Greek and Russian Churches have died out here, as has also the attempt to create an Anglican Orthodoxy.
This 21st century will not bring a nationalistic Neo-Anglican ‘British Orthodox Church’, as they wanted. However, it may bring an Autocephalous Western European Orthodox Church, led by His Beatitude Metropolitan N. in Paris. As regards the four peoples and nations of these ‘Islands of the North Atlantic’ (IONA), it would find itself an autonomous part of such a Metropolia. It could have four archbishops, one for England, one for a reunited Ireland, one for Scotland and one for Wales, possibly with vicar bishops. However, realistically, this can only happen under the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, which alone founds new Churches. May God’s will be done.