Every Christian denomination in every country of the world is divided into dioceses and parishes which reflect the geographical area where they are located. Moreover, there may also be internal, sociological divisions. For example, in the town where I live there are several parishes of the C of E (Church of England), but two of these parishes refuse to talk to each other because their views and patterns of worship are utterly different, one is ‘Anglo-Catholic’, elderly and wealthy, the other is ‘happy-clappy’, middle-aged and financially modest. There are also two Baptist churches which refuse to talk to one another, because one is strict, the other is liberal.
In the cities there is a similar situation in Roman Catholic parishes, which can have completely different tendencies (Polish/Irish/liberal/ traditional/‘charismatic’…) and also in monasteries, which belong to different orders. Nowadays, larger Roman Catholic parishes have masses at different times for different ethnic groups in different languages and with different Roman Catholic rites, Polish, Syro-Malabar, Greek-Catholic Ukrainian etc. There is often very little communication between these diverse groups. What is the situation regarding the Orthodox Church in this country? What sort of divisions are there here?
Seven Local Churches and Ten Groups
Of the fourteen Local Churches that make up the worldwide Orthodox Church only seven are represented outside their home countries. In the British Isles and Ireland these seven Churches have nine dioceses and one deanery. These are the following: the Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Georgian, Constantinople (two dioceses, Greek and Ukrainian, and one deanery, Paris), Antiochian and Russian (two dioceses, Sourozh and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia). These nine dioceses and one deanery are not territorial, but are superimposed on one another on the same territory. However, even so there is often little communication between them, as each caters for its own ethnic group. Of these ten groups, the first six, the Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Georgian and the big Greek and the tiny Ukrainian nationalist dioceses of the Church of Constantinople, are largely concerned only with their own ethnic members.
Thus, the above generally appear not to observe the Gospel commandment of Matthew 28, that we are to go out into all the world and teach and baptize all. For example, although a small minority of parishes in the big Greek-speaking Diocese of the Church of Constantinople, mainly Cypriot by ethnicity, do sometimes accept English people, generally these people are Hellenized or even come from a Hellenophile public school background. Moreover, its archbishops, who must have Greek or Cypriot nationality, usually impose Greek names on any they may ordain, such as Kallistos instead of Timothy, Meletios instead of Peter, Aristobulos instead of Alban, and imposes names like Athanasios, Panteleimon and Eleutherios on others. This leaves four choices to the majority of native English speakers who are interested in trying to live according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church without having to change their name and national identity.
The first two of these choices, the Parisian and the Antiochian, appear to cater for two specific small English sociological groups, whereas the last two groups are both part of the Russian Orthodox Church. These are at once sociologically much broader as regards the range of English and other local people within them, but those people sometimes have a Russian connection and they are in a majority Russian Church.
1. The Paris Deanery (also called the Exarchate)
This is a very small Deanery belonging to a Diocese under an elderly and sick French bishop, received and ordained into the Church in 1974, based in Paris under the ‘Greek’ (Constantinople) Church. It has virtually no property of its own. Founded in Paris in the 1920s by anti-monarchist Saint Petersburg aristocrats, who had tried but failed to seize power from the Tsar, it had a small parish in London until 1945. However, in 2006 the group was refounded in this country after a noisy, aggressive and unfriendly divorce from the Russian Orthodox Sourozh Diocese (see below) and it strongly dislikes the Russian Orthodox Church as it is. In 2006 it was 300 strong, out of a then total of about 300,000 Orthodox in the UK, so it represented about one in a thousand Orthodox. Despite its tiny size, in 2006 its foundation was strongly supported by the Russophobic bastions of the British Establishment, the Church of England, the BBC, The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. It is known for its attachment to the arts, philosophy and intellectualism and ordains easily, providing that the candidates come from ‘the right background’.
It tends to cater for rather elderly, upper-middle class Establishment figures – which is why it belongs to the Western-run Church of Constantinople, which uses the Roman Catholic calendar for the fixed feasts, and not the independently-run Russian Orthodox Church. It is thus rather politicized and its perhaps clubby, county-town members tend to support the elitist Liberal Democrats. Its members, often in groups as small as five or ten, may, like their founder, be attracted to spiritual techniques, such as Buddhism, Sufi Islam, yoga or what is called ‘the Jesus Prayer’ (= noetic prayer in Orthodox language). It is not incarnate in any Local Orthodox Church and mixes different practices and customs, also introducing ‘creative’ customs of its own. Some of its more effete members quite unrealistically call their tiny Deanery ‘The Orthodox Church in Britain’, despite the fact that it is dwarfed by nine much more proletarian Orthodox Dioceses. This is rather like some members of the ‘Orthodox Church in America’, a US Orthodox group with a huge title which the Deanery much admires, but which is also dwarfed by others, numbering only some 30,000 out of 3,000,000 Orthodox in North America.
2. The Antiochian (Arab) Diocese
This very small ethnic ‘British Orthodox’ group, originally 300 in number, was founded as a Deanery as recently as 1996 by and for dissident Anglicans. They came from backgrounds as diverse as conservative Evangelicalism, moralistic Puritanism and charismatic Anglo-Catholicism, but all were dissatisfied with Anglicanism. Having since then converted only a few other Anglicans and apparently (??) without much interest in Non-Anglicans, its ex-Anglican clergy sometimes rely on Romanians to fill their churches. The group is known for its missionary zeal and sincerity, providing pastoral care where other Dioceses have failed to do so, but is also known for its lack of knowledge, pastoral and liturgical, and lack of realism. It has little property of its own. In 2016 this Deanery, which uses the Roman Catholic calendar for the fixed feasts, became a Diocese and the first task of its new Arab bishop, without an Arab base and tradition, is in his own words to teach his clergy how to celebrate the services and so enter the mainstream. In the past it has ordained very easily, providing that its candidates are Anglican vicars. This, however, may be changing.
3. The Sourozh Diocese (also incorrectly called the Patriarchal Diocese) of the Russian Orthodox Church
Directly under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, this Diocese has existed for 55 years. It has had a varied history, having been marked by tendencies of liberal modernism as well as Soviet patriotism under its former bishop and founder, the late Metropolitan Antony Bloom of Paris, with his unique personality cult and curious personal views. After his death most of his closest followers, mainly ex-Anglicans, left to found the Paris Deanery (see above) and now the Sourozh Diocese seems to be more and more for the many ethnic Russian immigrants who have settled in this country over the last 20 years. However, there are exceptions and it still has some very active English groups (as well as dying traces of a Bloomite past), though most of its English clergy are now elderly.
4. ROCOR, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also incorrectly called ROCA or ‘the Church Abroad’)
This Diocese of the British Isles and Ireland of the Church Outside Russia is one of many dioceses under a Synod of fifteen Russian Orthodox bishops (three of them retired) centred in New York. It was originally founded in 1920 by Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow for White Russian émigrés exiled throughout the world. Self-governing and only indirectly under the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, with which it has excellent relations, ROCOR, once worldwide, is now dominant only in the English-speaking world, especially in the USA and Australia. It has seen many of its ethnically very closed parishes in South America and continental Western Europe shut or else dissolve into the more missionary-minded local dioceses of the rest of the Russian Orthodox Church, centred in Moscow. However, in the English-speaking world it is the voice of Russian Orthodoxy and its missionary-minded Canadian Metropolitan, formerly Archbishop of Australia and New Zealand, is, symbolically, the head of dioceses in New England and ‘Old’ England.
The local Diocese has a chequered history, with various incarnations. These range from noble White Russian roots, which especially after 1945 were infected by unpleasant, very right-wing and nationalistic anti-Communism and a generation after that by equally unattractive Anglo-Catholic sectarianism. The latter movement even tried to prise the Diocese from its faithfulness to Russian Orthodoxy. However, these generational nightmare incarnations thankfully died out with the end of the Cold War, quit the Church or else were pushed to the margins, where as relics they have almost disappeared. Over the new generation, after decades of neglect and nearly dying out in the early 1990s, this Diocese has been returning to its White Russian roots, understood as faithfulness, in Russian or in English, to the Orthodox Tradition, which has so much revived among Russians. Today’s ROCOR mission is to spread the Orthodox Faith and values of the reviving multinational Christian Empire of Holy Russia here and throughout the English-speaking world, as well as in its missions from South America to Western Europe, Haiti to Hawaii, Pakistan to South Korea, Costa Rica to Indonesia, and Nepal to the Philippines.