The following wide-ranging compilation of nearly 4,000 words provides answers to several questions posed over the last twelve months by various correspondents. Here those answers are made public on this, the first anniversary of our life within the Patriarchate of Romania and among its saints.
Q: Was it difficult for all your parishes to transfer to the Romanian Orthodox Church on 16 February 2022?
A: No, it was very simple, very straightforward. The negotiations with the Metropolitan and the Patriarchal canonists took only four hours. The letters of reception were issued two days later and are available for all to see and the antimensia singed by Vladyka were issued ten days later. All was clear and the correctness of our reception was only confirmed by the contrary reactions and astonishing untruths told by certain individuals in ROCOR and even in the MP after our departure in the two weeks that followed, namely that we had not in fact been received! Metr Joseph was very shocked by that. Those untruths totally discredited their authors and the websites they operate.
I am afraid to say that ROCOR now does not have a good reputation among the Local Churches. Other Local Churches know what it has become and are happy to accept persecuted clergy and churches from ROCOR, providing that the vast majority of the people in the parishes want such a transfer. Our vast majority was 4,853 for and 15 (very naïve) people against. Of those 15, most only came to church from time to time and were not listed as parishioners. Tragically, one was persuaded not to come because a certain bishop, under political control, told her not to come here. The result of this is that she has deprived herself of Church life.
Q: Has anyone come back after leaving you?
A: Only one person. She said that she had been misled and was very regretful. But we welcomed her back with open arms and do not mention her mistake to her.
Q: Has the loss of 15 people affected you financially?
A: Collections have increased by over 20% since they left. This is probably because they have been replaced by 47 new parishioners. In order of numbers and nationality these are Russians, Moldovans, Romanians and Ukrainians.
Q: Had you thought of transferring to other Local Churches other than the Romanian?
A: We had not, but they had! We received various offers, but there was only one place we wanted to go after being forced to leave the Russian Church, and that was the Romanian Church, which is outside both Greek/American Democrat politics and Russian/American Republican politics.
Q: What fundamentally forced over half of the English Diocese of the Russian Church Outside Russia to leave it after decades of faithfulness? Was it a question of keeping your property, as some have said?
A: The last straw was its uncanonical actions and schism even with part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Now all that is left is the London Russian parish and a tiny set of mainly convert-run groups outside London with a total of under 200 people in them all told.
Q: Who forced you to leave the Russian Church?
A: Our departure happened through, but not because of, our old family friend, the then 78-year old Metr Jean Renneteau in Paris, although he himself very much wanted to keep us, as he has confirmed in several phone-calls over the last six months. He was very sad to lose us and wants us back. It was all against his will. Let you remind you that it was Metr Jean, whom we backed to the hilt, who finally brought 57%, the non-masonic part, of his Archdiocese, the part where we always had family, close friends and allies, out of schism back to the Russian Orthodox Church. His feat has gone down in history and we greeted it enthusiastically at the time in 2018, as you can read on this site.
However, to get back to the answer to your question, the problem was his superior, who is younger than our three eldest children! It was he who forced Metr Jean to abandon us against the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church, for purely political reasons. When he was informed that if he forced all 16 clerics and their parishes out, we would all go to the Patriarchate of Romania, he replied: ‘Too bad for them’. He had no interest in keeping us because we were not Russian. That is very significant.
For it means that the Russian Church in its present form does not want to do missionary work, does not respect or want to keep its clergy and people, even after a lifetime of unpaid service. It wants to disunite and scatter, rather than to gather together, to destruct rather than to construct. This is suicidal on its part because it means that there is no point in anyone joining or being part of the authentic millennial Russian Orthodox Church, especially those who follow its real Tradition, speak fluent Russian and are its greatest friends!
This is the end for the Russian Orthodox Church anywhere outside Russia and, for the moment, Belarus, for many years to come, depending on the new Patriarch. The Church as it is now will only attract the naïve, who will soon fall away once they see through it, or else right-wing converts with illusions. They were not even born when we were living Orthodoxy in the times of Martyrdom for the Faith and Confession of the Faith in the Soviet Union.
Q: 16 February marks the first anniversary of the transfer of the ‘mini-diocese’ of which you are part, from the Russian Church to the Patriarchate of Romania. Apart from no longer being in schism, what are the differences you have noticed?
A: I think I can sum it all up in just one word: Freedom. For example, in order of the least important to the most important:
Firstly, we can now use our own liturgical English and do not have to use American. So we are no longer being forced to use a foreign language and can carry on using the same liturgical language as we have always used for the last fifty years before others were even born! So we are not being forced to renounce the Tradition, as was definitely the case before.
Secondly, all our websites can operate freely, without censorship. Censorship and threats to free speech are over.
Thirdly, we can now do missionary activity, we are no longer prevented from doing so, with the result that we have already opened two new parishes in the past year and have hopes of opening others elsewhere, especially in the Midlands. Our main problem is lack of funds, so here we appeal to all those who support us to help with fund-raising.
Fourthly, we can now follow in everything the legacy of the ever-memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, who ordained me to the priesthood in 1991 after seven years serving as a deacon and which represents the old multinational ROCOR, the ROCOR of Orthodox Tradition, the Russian Orthodox Church, and not some administrative divisions of it made up over the last century. We so knew and loved the real Russian Orthodox Church so well, but it no longer exists. Archbishop Antony had under him the then only Romanian parish in Paris, which of course was on the new calendar. (In those days, there were several new calendar Orthodox parishes in ROCOR, even in the USA, and that raised no problems).
Now the favour is being returned with what is basically a multinational Russian/Moldovan deanery under the Romanian Church. This means that we are on the old calendar, but if some want to do services on the new calendar, that is possible. Though it does not interest me personally, I can understand that for some it may be important and I say: Please go ahead. It is a pastoral matter. We have Vladyka Joseph’s blessing. All this expresses the spirit of the future Local Church, and not of some ghetto-sect. There is no room for micro-management in such situations, you have to be broader-minded.
In general, I think this freedom to live as normal Orthodox comes from the fact that we are no longer held under by converts, who have only been Orthodox for a few years and are so insecure in the faith that they hold to rigid manmade rules, which nobody else holds to, including in the Moscow Patriarchate. One of the things that recent and inexperienced converts do not realise is that Love is much greater than narrow manmade rules, which are only guidelines.
Their disease is called convertitis, you know that defensive narrowness and headborne dryness of spirit that can also come from doctorates. That disease belongs to the pharisees, who think too much. It has become common in parts of ROCOR, where before it never existed, especially since about 2016. It is what Fr Seraphim Rose fought against in California – for that was and is where the evil began and is spreading from – in the 1970s, quite rightly calling it ‘super-correctness’. It is sounding brass. Now we are in communion with all and are not threatened by the sectarian trends and schismatic pressures of before.
Then, of course, already by Divine Providence in the Romanian Patriarchate, we avoided all the politics connected with the American-Russian war in the Ukraine, which reflects so badly on the Russian Orthodox Church because of its political involvement through its centralisation. At the time several of us said that we had ‘got the last flight out of Kabul’. We have Russians and Ukrainians in our churches, as well as many other nationalities. We can welcome all to our churches. You don’t have to belong to the grim and depressing, right-wing, Protestant-style, pseudo-Russian group of people who do not speak Russian.
Another thing that worries me is that aggressive Western governments may ban the Russian Church in their countries, as those governments have already done in the Ukraine and Latvia, where the local Orthodox have accepted a de facto (though highly providential) autocephaly of the Church, an independence from the highly centralised Russian Church, even though it may not officially be called ‘autocephaly’. If such a ban does happen in the future, at least we are already out of the mess and so will have been saved from such unpleasant problems and political manipulations. God saved us before time.
Q: What do you think the Russian hierarchy should have done on 24 February 2022?
A: Today is the feast day of St Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to the-Apostles. His icon is one of the twelve on the Colchester church iconostasis. He is the key. When in 1904 Japan, armed to the teeth by the Russophobic Western Powers, attacked an unprepared and unmilitarised Russia, Bishop Nicholas, a Russian living in Tokyo, simply locked himself away and prayed for peace. Here is our model. The Russian Church has to return to its multinational itself.
Q: Do you regret anything in the events around you and ROCOR?
A: For us, not at all. All this was the best possible thing that could have happened in those circumstances and all on the eve of that terrible war. For ROCOR, however, I regret greatly.
After the reconciliation with the rest of the Russian Church in 2007, which I witnessed and I had worked towards for decades, ROCOR for a period of about ten years enjoyed unprecedented global prestige in the Orthodox world. We were the Church which had canonised the New Martyrs, the Church which had been the politically-free voice of the Russian Church during its Soviet captivity, we were the Church of the Faithful Confessors, of St John of Shanghai, we had returned to communion with all and were welcomed and thanked for our witness. We received grace. The potential to help develop missions and work towards Local Churches, co-operating with other politically-free Orthodox, was there. Icons gave off myrrh in those days. Today it is a very different story. The acquisition of grace, which St Seraphim of Sarov explained is our aim, has been replaced by the acquisition of money, power and property.
Instead of nurturing that grace and co-operating with others, the grace was step by step misused and abused amid the sectarian spirit of exclusivism. This excluded even the then First Hierarch Metr Hilarion, well before his dementia. As a result, ROCOR is now mainly becoming a historical footnote as the American Synod, which is being even further discredited by the Belya affair, yet another affair of forged signatures. ROCOR has voluntarily Sovietised itself. It is very important to understand that this was all voluntary, it was never forced on ROCOR by Moscow. Certain figures are not so much interested in humility, fasting, poverty and prayer, as in power, luxury, money and property. The problem is lack of pastors. Some have been replaced by bureaucrats, ‘effective managers’, as the Russian jargon goes.
Its hope of survival in Northern America today is in being absorbed into the Moscow-founded OCA, which is about five times bigger. That is what Moscow wants and it is logical. Outside Northern America, ROCOR hardly exists in Latin America, where forty years ago it had, if I remember rightly, six dioceses. As for the thirty or so parishes of Australian ROCOR, they will now have to follow the fate of the Indonesian Mission which ROCOR handed over wholesale to Moscow. It abandoned its mission there, the same as it did here, only here to the Romanians. Australian ROCOR may as well become part of a new Autonomous Church, but under Moscow and linked up with its South-East Asian Exarchate.
Q: What about the ROCOR churches in Western Europe? There are still nearly 90 parishes or small communities there.
A: In Western Europe ROCOR is only really present in Western Germany and Switzerland. In the other Western European countries there is only a handful of parishes and communities, one, two or at most three in each country, if any at all. There is nothing in Scandinavia and Portugal has now been abandoned. In Spain there is one tiny convert group, in Italy there are two parishes on the French border and hardly anything is left in the Netherlands and France. Logically, the ROCOR parishes in Germany, which are in any case mainly peopled and clergied by expatriates from the ex-Soviet Union (and a few convert groups, with often fewer than 10 or at most 20 members) should join Moscow.
This is what Moscow asked for five years ago in exchange for its parishes in the Americas to be given to ROCOR. Sadly, ROCOR refused, missing the boat, the once in a lifetime offer, which will probably not be made again. Then it claimed that it will not join up with Moscow for 50-100 years! Moscow was very angry with the individual who said that. Moscow looks on Western Europe as its territory, as an integral part of Eurasia.
However, the situation has become very complex in Western Europe since the war in the Ukraine, as most of the Moscow parishes are themselves peopled by Ukrainians and especially Moldovans, as in Italy (70 out of 72 parishes). With over thirty new canonical Ukrainian parishes independent of Moscow in Western Europe founded in the last nine months and the possible mass defection of Moldovans to the Romanian Church, as is beginning to happen in Moldova itself and has in fact happened in England, it is difficult to see a future for the Moscow Exarchate. Russian nationalism rules and that means isolationism, being in communion with no-one. It is returning to the times of its tiny Exarchate of Soviet patriots of the 60s and 70s and the war in the Ukraine has isolated Most of the faithful have left its new Cathedral in Paris. Security men frisk you as you go in, as in an airport. I am told that congregations number about thirty. Even my friend Nikita, the very Russian nephew of the late Archbishop Basil Krivoshein, has left.
Q: Surely you regret having to leave the Russian Orthodox Church after nearly fifty years?
A: You misunderstand. We never left the Russian Orthodox Church, that is, we never left the spiritual world of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is part of the whole Orthodox world. All that happened is that we were forced to leave the administrative world, the bureaucracy, of the Russian Church. We are exactly the same as before and continue as before. Nothing has changed. When the administrative world with its protocols frees itself of politics and the spiritual world takes over once more, as it will, and sooner than some think after President Putin, then we shall see what will be decided. The mess will end and the injustices will be sorted out, but not yet. Then those who swim with the tide will swim in the opposite direction, as we have seen so many times before. In Russia they still have many things to suffer in repentance for the Soviet period.
Q: Did you know that your faith would be challenged in this way?
A: In September 2020, we went to Mt Athos to see the clairvoyant Fr Evthimios, the closest disciple of St Paisios the Athonite, whom I met in 1979 together with the ever-memorable Fr Ephraim of Arizona. We met him at the skete where he had built the first ever church dedicated to St Paisios and asked him what we should do, given the internal persecution against us. He said he would send me an answer. In May 2021, after the ROCOR schism had begun, I received a message from him and that was: ‘Do not fear the courts of men. Your case will be decided in the highest court’. And this is exactly what we did and exactly what has happened.
Q: You set up a church in Norfolk and two churches in Cambridgeshire for the people there. So effectively the Colchester parish is for Orthodox in Essex and Suffolk, your home counties, the other two counties in the East of England. Do you still visit Orthodox outside these counties?
A: Of course, I do. I visit my parishioners in many parts of the country among all those rendered Churchless by the absence of Church life which pervades the spiritual desert of modern England. Not just the new and young, but also the old, including the grandchildren of those who came here after 1917, who as adults had known the old Russia. Their parents departed over the last generation, so these grandchildren of emigres are now themselves elderly. These are the people who, like me, knew the traditional ROCOR priests like Fr George Sheremetiev (+ 1971), Fr Alexander Trubnikov (+ 1988) and Fr Mikhail Artsimovich (+ 2003). (Fr George was the one who advised the late Timothy Ware not to join ROCOR because it was being ‘taken over’.
Like them, my godfather, Nikolai Mikhailovich Zernov (+ 1980), however much I disagreed with him, would never have accepted the present situation. Even someone like the equally liberal, non-ROCOR Metr Antony Bloom (+ 2003), despite his well-known human weaknesses which scandalised so many, must be spinning in his grave at what is going on in the Russian Church today. Several of his disciples, for example in Amsterdam and Madrid, have actually left the Russian Church or been suspended by it and his disciple Metr Hilarion (Alfeev) has been exiled to Budapest. He would have been exiled also. As for the equally liberal, late Metr Kallistos (Ware), you can imagine….
In the days of the traditional ROCOR, there were no converts who wanted to rebaptise everyone. You know, the ones who are more Orthodox than the Orthodox, but have no idea that Orthodoxy is Christianity, just an exotic sectarian cult with its cultish podcast and zoom gurus. In the old days, there were few ill-educated, ritualist clergy with superstitions, money-grubbing, politics and phariseeism with as much spiritual refinement and subtlety as a Soviet tank, incapable of confessing or preaching. Lumps of cast iron against antique timepieces.
I recently visited and gave communion to just such a Russian daughter of White emigres in Esher in Surrey, who gave a lot of money in the 1990s to help build the church in Chiswick (like the late Golitsyns), but received bad treatment there. I knew her mother in Paris and have known her and her family for 35 years. Like so many rather aristocratic Russian émigré women, her mother, a child in pre-1917 Russia, became a seamstress in Paris in the 1930s. After the war she had opened her own fashion house and had the Audrey Hepburn elegance, style and class that no longer seems to exist anywhere today, though her daughter has inherited it: ‘Elegance is the only beauty that never fades’. No botox and tooth-whitening for such people, unlike several Orthodox bishops and priests of all jurisdictions in California.
A spiritual daughter of the wonderful Fr Alexander Trubnikov from Tsarskoe Selo and Meudon, but now deprived of the Church, she talks to God in her garden. That is where she can pray. There are churches, but she cannot go to them, some people who control them are unChristian. But she remains Christian, Orthodox Christian.
Q: Were you hurt by the slanders against you?
A: No. Our first reaction was one of astonishment. Next came laughter at the attempts to manipulate the naive and ignorant who did not know us. These were so ridiculous. The came sadness that people who called themselves Christians could do such things, their souls full of hatred, covetousness and above all jealousy. All this only discredited their authors. It is called the boomerang effect. They reflect very badly on those who issued them. Did they really think that such novel New World manipulations could work among experienced Orthodox in old Europe?
Q: How would you sum up what happened to you last year?
A: I would say that ROCOR fell into a trap of its own making, it was put to the test and failed. In 2007 it was given an opportunity to behave like Christians, but instead, the culprits revealed who they are (both the ones in ROCOR and the few others elsewhere who repeated the untruths of ROCOR). We know their names. The internet knows their names. And above all God knows their names.
It is a tragic warning that if you desert God, He will desert you. And that is what is happening to it through its self-discrediting. The waste of potential is enormous. God gave them everything and they squandered it. What must St John of Shanghai be thinking of this spiritual suicide? Like the apostles, we have shaken the dust off our feet and moved on. May God grant them to know love for others before they reach their death-beds. I tremble in their place. But this is how the Church is cleansed.
Q: Do you feel as though this chapter is closed and you can slowly retire?
A: Now you make me laugh! That chapter was closed a year ago, but slowly retiring?! You haven’t seen anything yet. There is so much more to do. If God grants me life to do it all. The pastoral catastrophe in this country is such that I need another fifty years to contribute towards remedying it just in my little corner. I have only just started!
16 February 2023