The above are the words of my dear friend, Archbishop Victor (Bykov) of Artsyz, Vicar-Bishop of the Odessa Diocese of the UOC, on 23 July. They followed the devastation to the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa, which I knew so well and whose present ruinous state is so saddening. Vladyka Victor, who is a real monk, stressed that the Patriarch has repeatedly spoken about the unity of ‘Holy Rus’, which he ‘has utterly destroyed with his blessing and his actions’. ‘In my opinion you seem to have forgotten that, just as in Russia, so in Ukraine there are (were) your children, whom you consider as such, and you have blessed those who are now killing them’, wrote the Archbishop. ‘The words ‘Great Lord and Father’ do not come to my tongue when addressing you, for you are a father who has sacrificed his children to destruction and killing’. So sad and yet so true.
The problem is that the Patriarch has lost not only the Ukraine and Latvia, but probably also Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, England and probably all the lands of Western Europe and indeed, probably ultimately everything outside the territory of the Russian Federation. He has transformed himself from the Patriarch of All Rus into the Patriarch of All Russia. Three letters more tacked on to the word ‘Rus’ may sound like a minor change, but in fact it is everything. A once great multinational Church is rapidly becoming a minor nationalist Church. The multinational quality of the Church of the old Russian Empire (1721-1917) and then of the Soviet Union (1917-1991) has been destroyed by ambition, which led to the twofold disease of inward corruption and outward nationalism, exactly, to the letter, as in the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
When the Soviet Union collapsed into 15 different countries at the end of 1991, the Russian Church retained the chance of being multinational. Now that has largely been lost in this wave of militant Russian nationalism. True, the temptation of national exclusivism was always there, and in every part of the Russian Church, as we know only too well from fifty years of experience inside it, but we thought that the victory of that nationalism could be avoided. Great figures in the Russian Diaspora Church like Metr Anastasy, St John of Shanghai and Archbishop Antony of Geneva thought so too. Now it all seems to be too late! The only hope now is a wave of autocephalies, which could at least keep the Russian Church as the historic head of a family of ten, with nine fully independent, canonical Autocephalous Churches forming part of the new ‘Holy Rus’.
By Divine Providence, the list of Autocephalous Churches would start with the older Polish, Czechoslovak and Northern American (formerly OCA) Churches, but now would extend to new Ukrainian, Baltic, Belarussian, Central Asian, Japanese and African Churches. As regards the Russian parishes in Moldova and Western Europe, they will probably pass to the majority Patriarchate of Romania, which, by Divine Providence, already has Autonomous Metropolias there and a flock of well over four million with a thousand parishes and ten, and soon, eleven, bishops. If those on those territories directly or indirectly under Moscow did not join into the symphony of those future Local Churches, they would become uncanonical sects. Such a situation would still leave Autonomous Churches under Moscow in Latin America, South-East Asia and China.
The ideal of ‘Holy Rus’ can survive, but not in its old administrative unity. Its unity is what Patriarch Kyrill has destroyed, as Vladyka Victor said above. ‘Holy Rus’ can no longer survive in a centralised/Sovietised form, but only in the form of a Family or Confederation of independent adults. The Autocephalous Church of Poland, once within the Russian Empire and the Russian Church, proved a century ago that this is possible. Others must now follow its example. For the Holy Spirit cannot be regulated by pieces of paper and intimidating threats, as bureaucrats and young and inexperienced neophyte bishops imagine. In the words of Christ, the only Head of the Church: The Spirit blows where it wills. And it does not blow in the direction of Moscow (or Constantinople), of corruption and nationalism, it blows in the direction of Autocephaly and freedom.