Leadership and the Church Fifty Years From Now

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19)

Quench not the Spirit (I Thess. 5:10)

The Truth will set you free (Jn. 8:32)

For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy churches of God and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord. (The Great Litany)

 

I first read the Gospel just over fifty years ago. It came as a revelation as it at last made sense of the world around me. So then I began looking for that mysterious Church which Christ had founded in the Gospels and against which ‘the gates of hell will not prevail’. I realised that this could only be a Church which was historic, whose roots went back to these very words of Christ in the first century. Clearly, this excluded all the man-invented Protestant groups, including the Church of England, all of which went back, at best, only to the sixteenth century. I also realised that this Church must be both universal and local, in other words, open to all peoples, languages, nationalities and backgrounds, that is, local in its diversity, though also universal.

Clearly, this also meant that anything narrowly ethnic would be excluded, for example, once again, Anglicanism (the State Church of the British Empire, an Empire that had begun with Elizabeth I and her father and had ended with Elizabeth II and her father, and so was an anachronism). This also excluded all the mononational Local Orthodox Churches, let alone tiny nationalistic or schismatic offshoots, like Ukrainian, Belarussian and Old Calendarist groups. Thus, the only choice could be between centralized Roman Catholicism and the persecuted Russian Orthodox Church. Since the former was clearly a construct of barbarian European imperialism which had finally taken on a recognisable shape only as late as the eleventh century, I had to be Russian Orthodox.

Its heritage and spirit was what Christ had spoken of – the mere fact that it was persecuted was proof enough. Therefore, I began looking forward to the day when the Russian Church would give birth to a Local Western European Orthodox Church. I had no desire to see a national, merely English, Church, for there had never been such a thing in history, apart from State-run Anglicanism. (That nationalistic variety of temporary British Establishment culture held no interest for me, indeed was quite alien to me and in any case was rapidly dying out). Authentic English Christianity had come from Egypt via Gaul and Ireland and from Italy and Western Europe and had converted the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia – it had always been multinational.

Western Europe needed a multinational Church for all the repentant and searching in the one common cultural area of post-Roman Catholic and post-Protestant Europe. This would be both Universal (multinational) and Local, both Orthodox and, in my case of local, English, and not Anglican. At that time the Russian Mother-Church inside Russia found itself in a tragic political captivity. Thus it was rejected by 95% of Russian Orthodox of all nationalities living in Western Europe as obviously unfree, enslaved by an atheist State. From this realisation on I waited for one part or another of the Russian Orthodox Church to found an Exarchate of Western Europe, which would serve as the foundation for such a multinational Local Church..

I hoped that the émigré fragments of the Russian Church in Western Europe, whose temporary existence was justified by the existence of the Soviet Union, would found this Exarchate. It was surely their responsibility and destiny. In April 1988 I first wrote about the need for just such a Russian-founded Western European Orthodox Church and how it could be structured. This I wrote in French and was subtitled ‘Vision ou Reve’ (Vision or Dream) (1). It was thrown by a visionless Archbishop into a wastepaper bin in Paris. In reality, some émigré churches in Western Europe were by 1990 dying. If you become ever smaller, ever more inward-looking and backward-looking, ever more nationalistic and without a missionary purpose, you will die out.

Thus, some lost spiritual and moral authority either by weak and conformist compromises with secularist Western values or else by remaining stuck in the past. The Exarchate was finally founded by a freed Church from inside Russia in December 2018. The Exarchate, no doubt to be modified and remodelled over the next fifty years by our contributions to it, will become the future. It is clear that, precisely because we keep the living Tradition, we cannot live in the past. Over the next fifty years the Exarchate will become the foundation for the new Local Church of Western Europe. The Mother-Church can provide the necessary leadership, vision, episcopal infrastructure and goodwill to construct this future, together with the help of others.

The Russian Orthodox Church is canonically the Northern (‘Hyperborean’) Church of Eurasia, apart from those small territories of the mononational Churches. Russia itself is Eurasian, with tens of millions of Russian Orthodox of many tongues living west and east of the Urals, as well as beyond in Western Europe and Asia, in Japan and China and in the South-East Asian Exarchate, stretching from what was Indo-China to Singapore and Taiwan to the Philippines. This Eurasian missionary destiny is shown by the surrender of parishes in Indonesia to the Exarchate there. (Only Africa remains the heritage of Greek Orthodoxy. However, if it should fail in this responsibility through nationalism, the Russian Church would have to set up an Exarchate there too).

Some may ask, but what then in fifty years from now of the remaining fragments of the Russian Orthodox world, of those who have long lived in and were born in the Americas and Oceania? As the polarised and polarising elements of the past, the extremist secularists and the extremist sectarians, die out, what will happen? Their huge responsibility and destiny will surely be within fifty years from now to unite to form the foundations of three future Autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches on the three continents of the New World: North America, South America and Oceania, using English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, together with Dutch and native languages, uniting all Orthodox of all backgrounds there.

Here is the future Orthodox world which is calling us to move forwards. Let us not be hidden behind anachronisms, behind bureaucracy, behind imperialist reflexes and nationalist provincialism. Let us look and go forwards and not backwards. Let us show leadership and not stand in the way of the future.

Ascension Day, 28 May 2020

Note:

  1. Published twelve years later in English in ‘Orthodox England’, Vol 4, No 1, September 2000