On Recovering the Lost Provinces of Western Europe

In the fifth century the westernmost provinces of Europe were lost by the Christian Empire to barbarian Germanic invaders. However, in the sixth century St Justinian the Great was Emperor in the Christian capital in New Rome from 527 to 565. The last Roman Emperor to speak Latin as a first language, Justinian sought ‘renovatio imperii’ or the restoration of the Empire by recovering the lost western provinces. This ambition was expressed by reconquering the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa as well as the Ostrogothic Kingdom, and restoring Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy and Rome to the Empire after more than half a century of barbarian control. His forces then reclaimed most of southern Iberia, establishing the province of Spania. Unfortunately, this recovery was to be all too short-lived

At the end of the sixth century, seeing that physical recovery was impossible, in Old Rome, itself provincialised, Pope Gregory the Great set about the spiritual recovery of the provinces, starting with Britain. This recovery succeeded and spread, but was fragile. Already towards the end of the eighth century the Germanic leader Charlemagne had changed the Creed and fallen into iconoclasm. Although he soon died, in the mid-eleventh century the Germanic iconoclasts not only returned to power, but took over the Roman see, creating the definitive Schism of 1054. No help could come from those who had remained faithful in New Rome, so oppressed were they, and indeed in 1204 the Christian capital was sacked by the barbarians, finally falling in 1453, its leaders having compromised themselves with the barbarians.

At this, the task of the spiritual recovery of the lost Western provinces fell to small and oppressed Russia as the only free country in the still Christian world. It, however, was faced with the hostility of the rulers of Western Europe and it was not until the nineteenth century that Russia was able to begin to preach the Christian Faith to the captive peoples of the Western provinces. However, the leaders of Western Europe became even more aggressive and invaded Russia in 1812, 1854 and again in 1914. This last invasion led to the fall of Christianity there in 1917, which came about through the treachery of the westernised upper classes, who betrayed their own ruler. In 1941 Western countries again invaded now fallen Russia, but with the sobering result that it began a fifty-year process of return to Christianity.

It is since 1991 then that Russia has been undergoing a long period of regeneration, painfully striving to re-establish at least something of Christianity. Although this process is far from complete, it provides hope that the spiritually sensitive in the lost Western provinces can return to the Church of Christ, especially if Russia is regenerated in full. This return can neither be on the basis of an uninteresting nationalistic form of Russian Christianity, nor on the basis of a minimal and opportunistically compromised form of Russian Christianity, as among some in North America, Paris, Finland and Estonia. It can only be on the basis of the maximal Christianity, the fullness of Orthodoxy. In this way, the lost provinces of Western Europe, including our own East of England province, can reintegrate the Church of God.