For those of us who were brought up in faithfulness to the values of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church, the politicised captivity of any Local Orthodox Church is lamentable. Moreover, the shameful weaponisation of the canons for political, monetary or proprietary reasons not only betrays the witness of those Martyrs and Confessors, who had no love of power, money or property, but also plainly discredits those who undertake that weaponisation. We render to God what is God’s and to Caesar only what is Caesar’s.
The New Martyrs and Confessors are those Russians who were fearless and did not agree to become serfs, or obediently line up to go to Bolshevik concentration camps, or see their churches closed by today’s renegade foreign bishops, just like they now do in the Ukraine and in England, they offered resistance to Antichrist. Indeed, Canon XV of the First and Second Council, held in the year 861 under St Photius and 317 other Fathers, is quite clear that those who ‘have been diligent to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions’….’shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honour which befits them among Orthodox Christians’. The world loves its own, but God loves His own.
Introduction: Lithuania is Now in the Diaspora
The news that the Patriarchate of Constantinople is setting up an Exarchate in Lithuania under Lithuanian (in other words, US) government sponsorship (https://d367rzjs5oyeba.cloudfront.net/_mobile_/ru/312734/) elicits sorrow in Moscow. This means that after Estonia nearly thirty years ago, then after the Ukraine nearly five years ago, and after Africa two years ago (1), Lithuania has now become yet another multi-jurisdictional Orthodox area region Moscow has lost its jurisdictional monopoly there too. However, Lithuania only joins the whole of Western Europe west of Poland, the Czech Lands, Romania and Slovenia, not to mention the Americas, Australia and Africa too, in becoming multi-jurisdictional.
Sadly then, there is nothing new in this. The real question is why Lithuania, or all the Baltic countries together, like many other countries, regions or continents, cannot simply belong to one administratively united Local Church. This would be the only canonical alternative (the principle of one bishop per city) to belonging to different jurisdictions, all moreover dependent on the ebb and flow of the political tides of foreign capitals and foreign politics. In none of this multiplicity of jurisdictions is there any intention to do missionary work, there are only vulgar and petty disputes about nationalistic power, and already existing income and property. As this is not how Christians behave, our only conclusion can only be that those who take part in it are not Christians. Can we imagine the apostles disputing in this way like children in the playground about jurisdiction over the Orthodox in Rome or Corinth or Ephesus or anywhere else? ‘This is my church, not yours’. No, it isn’t. Yes, it is’. Childishness among adults.
In Lithuania the appeal by Constantinople to Ukrainian and even Belarussian ‘refugees’ to join their new Church is clearly a political manipulation by the local US ambassador, in obedience to his employers in the US State Department. It is very likely that, as in Estonia and in the Ukraine, very few in Lithuania (where there are fewer than 100,000 nominal Orthodox anyway) will leave Moscow for Constantinople. What premises could the new jurisdiction use? Or will the Lithuanian State set about ejecting Orthodox from their churches by violence in order to establish a property portfolio of empty church buildings, as the US-backed Kiev regime does in the Ukraine? That is, few, apart from the original five priests who have left Moscow for Constantinople and were then defrocked by Moscow for purely political reasons, as Constantinople has recognised (2). It is Moscow’s suicidal tragedy which created this second suicidal tragedy on the part of Constantinople. Moscow must now be regretting its original injustice. As the proverb says, you reap what you sow. However, what will happen to all these Constantinople creations in Lithuania, the Ukraine and Estonia after the Russian military victory in the Ukraine?
Indeed, what will happen to the Ukraine, the Baltic States and indeed all of strike-bound and riot-torn Europe, Eastern and Western, including insurrectional France and its watch-loving President, after the US has to cut its losses in Europe, as it did in Kabul, and run away in order to face the war that it has been fomenting with China? Inevitably, once abandoned by its feudal US master, these countries like all the others in Europe will have to make up with Russia. However, the political and military victory of the Russian Federation will be no victory for the Moscow Patriarchate. People only go to church if it is not money-driven and if it is politically free, and that means neither to a careerist, money-driven and politically-subservient Moscow Patriarchate and its, nor to the clearly US-run Patriarchate of Constantinople. Through their politicking, both the largest (Moscow), and the most prestigious (Constantinople), Local Churches for now have disqualified themselves from spiritual leadership and the moral high ground of the Orthodox world. A double suicide. The result, after the conflict in the Ukraine is over, will surely be several new Local Churches, freed from the jurisdictions of either of the above. Notably, neither Constantinople nor Moscow with their Church structures in Lithuania ever mentions doing missionary work among Lithuanians! Only about stealing already existing flocks! What claim can either have to Lithuania?
Two questions arise. Firstly: Why is it that since 1900 – a long time ago now – no new, all-encompassing Local Church has been set up in any of the countries and continents where there is an Orthodox Diaspora, in Western Europe, the Americas or Australia? Then, there is a second question: Just over fifty years ago, there was a valiant attempt to do something towards building a Local Church for Northern America (the USA and Canada) with the OCA, the Orthodox Church in America, but that was a failure. Why? After all, according to the latest survey, 77% of all Orthodox parish clergy in the USA support the creation of a Local Church, either autocephalous or autonomous.
Of course, that above survey is of parish clergy, not of the episcopate or of laypeople. However, we suspect that most laypeople think the same as parish clergy. Those of the old emigration, of 50-100 years ago, especially in Western Europe, always had the intention of returning to the countries from which they had been expelled, either by Communist oppression or else by Capitalist poverty. This is no longer the case. Today’s emigrants, parish clergy and people, are here to stay. They want a better future for themselves, for their children and their grandchildren. They are establishing Local Orthodox Churches, as never before. However, their episcopate is another story.
More Politics: The Episcopate
The problem here is that the episcopate, those who have power, is often very closely attached, either for political or monetary or for ideological reasons, to a Mother-Church in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. For example, the Patriarchate of Antioch clearly allows no Non-Arab bishops. But the situation in other jurisdictions in North America, apart from in the OCA, is very similar. Clearly, only some sort of rejection of foreign candidates by the people could change that situation. But then there is the problem of candidates. It is all very well to declare that there should be more American-born bishops, but are there any suitable American-born candidates? And they must be suitable candidates, because crazy convert sectarian candidates, who live in a fantasy world, only lead to the destruction of the Church, as all have seen. The same goes for Western Europe and Australia.
On the other hand, in the recent Antiochian scandal, it was revealed to naïve Americans that most Arab bishops are in fact married. Thus, what the former Metropolitan was doing was not so unusual in the old country. We have known this for decades. It is common knowledge in Europe. There are plenty of (unofficially) married Orthodox bishops of all nationalities, we will not tire readers with a list. The first case we came across was that of a Greek bishop over forty years ago (3). And Orthodox parish clergy much prefer dealing with such married bishops to dealing with repressed homosexuals, who pretend that they are not what they are. The latter can be sadistic on account of their jealousy of married clergy, who have everything that they have chosen not to have, in order to further their power-driven careers.
On Being Broad-Based
Now we come to the oner attempt to set up a Local Church, the question of the failure of the OCA, the Orthodox Church in America. Why has it not achieved unity in Northern America after over fifty years? It was after all set up as autocephalous. Here, those of us who met and knew the pragmatic Fr Alexander Schmemann, the main inspiration behind the OCA, and remember the events of the 1970s will recall how the newly autocephalous but very controversial OCA episcopate immediately tried to impose a new calendarist ideology on all. This was suicidal. Immediately, the they failed to recruit anyone who was faithful to the old calendar and lost many who wanted to continue in that faithfulness. Secondly, its equally aggressive policy of nationalistic Americanisation discouraged anyone who was not US-born and had an attachment to another culture from joining it or even staying with it. It led to many a rather harsh quip at the time about ‘the Coca-Cola Church’.
In other words, our suggestion is that a Local Church in any part of the Western world must not be narrow and intolerant, but broad-based, inclusive of all Orthodox, ignoring political and nationalistic ideologies, accepting all, whatever their ethnic origin, and accepting both the calendars that Orthodox use. It is notable that the least broad-based, least tolerant and so smallest jurisdictions in Northern America, are those who do not want to belong to a Local Church, as they have a suicidal policy of sectarian isolationism. Its error is the opposite of the OCA’s. The first went to the new calendarist extreme of ‘almost anything goes’ and ‘we’re as American as apple pie’. On the other hand, smaller groups go to the old calendarist extreme of ‘hardly anything goes’ and experiencing an attack of sectarian ‘One True Churchism’.
Conclusion: The Answers to Two Questions
Extraordinarily, although their practising flock numbers fewer than one million out of perhaps five million nominal Orthodox, there are now 55 Orthodox bishops in Northern America. This is far more than in all Local Churches, except for Moscow (419 bishops for a nominal 144 million), Constantinople (much over-bishoped with 128 bishops for a nominal three million), Greece (over-bishoped with 100 bishops for a nominal 10 million) and Romania (59 bishops for a nominal 19 million). It can be said that Northern America is over-bishoped. Something similar can be said about Western Europe.
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Here there are probably about one million practising Orthodox out of about seven million nominal, but over 30 bishops. The above number of bishops is again greater than in many Local Churches. But there is still no Local Church. Indeed, the only Western European Metropolia which even has autonomy is the Romanian, though that does have most of the faithful in Western Europe. Why is there no all-encompassing, autocephalous Local Church anywhere? We repeat: Any Local Church in the Western world must be broad-based, inclusive of all Orthodox, ignoring political and nationalistic ideologies, accepting all, whatever their ethnic origin, and accepting both the calendars that Orthodox use.
- In 2021 Moscow received parishes in Africa into its jurisdiction as a result of the betrayal of Moscow by the Patriarchate of Alexandria (a US gun was being held in its back) on the issue of jurisdiction in the Ukraine. Since Moscow opened its Exarchate in Africa, the flock there has been divided between US-backed Greek Alexandria and Moscow. However, all this is against the background of the huge political, economic and military struggle between the US and Russia-China to dominate the African Continent. In other words, the whole affair is highly political.
- The canons are quite clear about defrocking. The cases in Lithuania have nothing to do with the personal morality of the priests defrocked, only about the twisting of the interpretation of the canons for purely political ends. In another case, a bishop uncanonically received several priests from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and yet objected when other Patriarchates received and canonically protected those whom he had unjustly treated. Like St Nectarios, who formed a Trust to protect the Convent he had founded, they also formed a Trust to protect the Church property they had founded and did not hand over the keys to those who wanted to destroy the parishes that had carefully been built up over the decades.
Those events certainly sounded like hypocrisy to all observers, including to onlooking bishops. The mass reception by Constantinople of bishops and priests in the Ukraine and the mass reception by Moscow of priests from Alexandria in Africa has done nothing to alleviate this impression of hypocrisy and once more undermines the authority of the episcopates concerned. It is clear that once this new Cold War is over, all these absurd decisions will be rescinded, just as those taken during the old Cold War were also rescinded by a mere stroke of the pen in the recent past.
- The open and well-known existence of married bishops sounds like one rule for the rulers and another rule for the ruled. In any case, once again it does nothing to give the bishops in question any authority or credit.