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Spreading Love: Towards Our Local Church of Western Europe

‘Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake’.

  1. Introduction: The Battle Against the Extremes of East and West

Although the Body of Christ was through the Resurrection victorious in the battle over the kingdom of hell and death nearly 2,000 years ago, the battle for the Body of Christ on earth has raged on. Just as the Body of Christ, that is, the Church, obviously belongs to Christ, and so also the clergy and people who serve Her belong to Christ, though some may imagine otherwise. This sense of belonging to Christ is why, like St Alexander Nevsky, whose 800th anniversary it is and who fought both the extremes of East and West, for exactly fifty years we too have had to battle the persecutors of the Church from both East and West. By the grace of God we have confessed God’s Truth, resisting and rejecting seven persecutors who came from West and East, sometimes one by one, sometimes together.

These were: the British Establishment, petty and divisive émigré personality cults, freemasonry, pressure from the KGB, modernism, sectarianism and Russophobic pressure from the CIA. All through the five decades of our conscious Orthodox lives we have been persecuted directly and indirectly by these persecutors inasmuch as they, although opposed in nearly everything else, were all totally united in not wanting the Church of Christ to expand and especially in their opposition to the foundation of a new Local Church of Western Europe or indeed anywhere else. But we have always remained faithful to the Church of Christ, seeing them off and retaining our pastoral freedom for the sake of building up our Church for the future generations.

  1. Faithful and Local

During all that time we have fought for the creation of a united multinational Church which is Local to Western Europe and yet still fully Faithful to Russian Orthodoxy. For the Russian Orthodox Church is surely called to be the Second Jerusalem, that is, the New Jerusalem which spiritually unites the immensely diverse Old World of Eurasia, on which the rest of the world depends. This unity is in the spirit of St John of Shanghai and Western Europe, who spent all his life in Eurasia until the final four years. Then he had to go to his Gethsemane in the distant USA. Here he was put on trial by those whose ancestors had loved power and riches more than Christ.

Just as they had betrayed the Church, the Tsar and the Russian people in 1917, so they betrayed him. Tried by them as a thief and found innocent, from there St John went on to his victorious Golgotha repose before the Icon of the Mother of God. For then, as now, there were the money-minded who did not want a Local Church, but a destructive, sectarian and political ideology, as one of St John’s disciples, Fr Seraphim (Rose), so clearly understood. They opposed the missionary work of St John, who had said that ‘the task of the Church Outside Russia is…the spreading of Orthodoxy in the countries where they live’. For them the Church was none of this, but merely a sectarian and cultish ideology of power and wealth.

  1. The Money-Minded and the Church-Minded

Those money-minded who opposed him still oppose the missionary spirit of St John, as is proved by their actions, though not always their words. They are characterised by ultra-conservatism, ritualism and moralism and are therefore recognisable by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They see the Church as an outpost of a foreign power and ideology. They belong to this ideology, and therefore see a Local Church as unnecessary. For some of these there is even already a Local Church: Catholicism or Protestantism. The only reason that they do not belong to these isms is purely nationalistic.

Then there are also those who do want a Local Church, but a controlling sect or totalitarian cult which excludes all except their own Western nationality and they refuse to speak a ‘foreign’ language. Thus, they compromise Orthodox Truth, as the Truth is ‘foreign’ to them. However, we have for fifty years proclaimed that we must be faithful to Orthodoxy and at the same time Local, we must be Transcendent and Incarnate, with God and with Man. We do not put money first, but put the Faith of Christ first.

  1. The Unity of the Orthodox Church

Today the Russian Orthodox Church of Western Europe, the legacy of St John, is composed of many dioceses with nearly 500 parishes and communities and 410 priests, of whom some 80% belong to the Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church and its missionary arm, the Archdiocese of Western Europe: there is no need to prolong the now unnecessary divisions of the past, for the Cold War is over, despite the intentions of some to revive it.

We have all our lives resisted the attempts to divide the Russian Orthodox witness. Whatever diocese we have witnessed in, we have worked for unity against all the quenchers of the Spirit, with their nationalistic, sectarian, political and alien influences which have tried to divide us. Satan does not want those who love the Church and sets his friends against us; so we remain and resist.

  1. Resisting satan

We resist satan precisely by resisting his acts of betrayal and so division of the Church. Since 1917 satan has worked to disunite the Church on earth by attacking the centre of its earthly unity in Russia, overthrowing the Christian Empire and subjecting it to the martyrdom of Western atheist values. This new disunity was first seen in Greek nationalist and then other nationalist divisions introduced into the Orthodox Diaspora.

It was revealed again in the adoption of the Roman Catholic (so-called ‘new’) calendar for the fixed feasts by such Balkan nationalists.  With the outward revival of the Russian Church following the failure of Western atheism in the Soviet Union to destroy her, in the 1990s the secularist powers took fear and openly decreed that the final enemy to be overcome was indeed the Russian Orthodox Church and its otherworldly values.

  1. The Contemporary Two-Pronged Attack on Unity

The first prong of this new and divisive attack on the Russian Orthodox world, the modernist prong from the left, came through Ukrainian nationalism, supported by Greek nationalism, both of them financed by atheists from overseas. The second prong of the attack on the Russian Orthodox world, the sectarian prong from the right, has appeared in the Western world. Here there are those conscious or unconscious agents of disunity, supported by the selfsame powers as those who supported division in the Ukraine, who wish to renew Russophobic division in the recently reunited Russian Orthodox Diaspora. The creators of disunity declared on the reunion of the Russian Church in 2007 that, if we cannot divide from them from the outside and so rule them, then we shall infiltrate them and divide them from the inside and so rule them.

I know the above because I heard the former US ambassador Herbst and his bishop from Odessa saying it behind my back in San Fransisco. For long the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has in part been led on earth by those who do not believe in Her. They do not believe in Her Unity and try to divide Her, they do not believe in Her Holiness and reject the saints, they do not believe in Her Catholicity and like sectarians refuse to admit Her Universality at different times and in different places, and they do not believe in Her Apostolicity and ban missionary work. They prefer loving themselves to loving the Church. Not believing in the truth and so denying it, they dwell in slavery, for only the truth sets free.

  1. A Life for the Tsar-Confessor and the Tsar-Martyr

We have sacrificed fifty years to live the destiny appointed for us. This has been to do in my native town and native region, and so very, very modestly, what would have happened, had the Orthodox Empire not been overthrown and the Emperor and his servants not been martyred by dark forces from 1916 on. For Tsar Nicholas, a Confessor before becoming a Martyr, had encouraged the Church authorities to bring Christ to the world, especially to Eurasia, thus uniting it. Had he not been martyred, he would have established a church in every European capital. His destruction was therefore ordered by enemies from near and from far.

In our life for the Tsar we have tried, however feebly, to walk in his footsteps, for his enemies have also been ours. Unlike him, we have not been called to martyrdom; therefore we are called to confessordom, for must all follow one way or the other. We have endeavoured to continue his interrupted missionary task, but in towns of our own locality, the East of England, this tiny corner of Western Europe, also in the hope that others may do likewise elsewhere. After 20 years of telling the truth, such missionary work was banned. However, those who wish to remain in their echo-chamber and close their ears to the facts always lose both spiritually and morally.

  1. Tradition or Disincarnation

In doing all this we have also done what we can to renew the veneration of the Old Saints of the West from the distant past, for that too was part of the Orthodox world. This veneration is because we believe in continuity and the need to gather together the vestiges of Faith from the past. We have never believed that it is necessary to start all over again, tampering with what has already been done. Rather we must rebuild. We do not believe that it is necessary for the young to trample down the foundations that have already been laid for a Local Church through the sacrificial blood, sweat and tears of the past fifty years.

Those who reject the already laid foundations as disincarnate are on the margins of Church life. Those who want only the new imagine that they are not in Europe. They have little sense of pastoral work, of the reality of the people. They are those who are new to the Church and use alien convertspeak to communicate. We, however, follow the Tradition, not the false spiritualism of Disincarnation. You cannot lead when you have no followers because you are disincarnate. We need an incarnate missionary arm to the Russian Church locally.

  1. Authority or Tyranny

Christ taught ‘as one having authority, not as the scribes’ (Matt. 7, 29). Authority is not imposed, for that would be mere authoritarianism. Authority, like respect for it, comes from strength of faith and from the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the case of the saints. However, where there is no such spiritual authority, there is authoritarianism, that is, tyranny, imposed authority and bullying.

The fall that follows the refusal to listen is a classic, textbook case of hubris. Pride always does go before the Fall. The suicidal refusal to listen, to sweep the truth under the carpet and gag and censor the truth-tellers, leads to a fall. However, the Truth will out. Missionary work will continue. A Church or a Diocese, like anything else, cannot be built on injustice. Like a boomerang, injustice always backfires. The result of dismissing the truth has constantly been that the truth explodes in the faces of those who are in denial. This is the mystical law.

  1. Persecution and Division

Periods of bitter, indeed, unheard of, persecution pass. For the Church is a ship which has at last sailed to a safe haven. However, when the righteous, but much-tried, captain gives up his soul, it eventually falls victim to princes, not servants, of the Church. The crew are held hostage. However, we do not despair or grow bitter, because we know that we will be saved, for the Church belongs to God. God, not man, saves His Church from the injustices and untruths of men. God’s Truth is always revealed despite all the attempts to conceal it.

We have seen in our lifetimes how in the Diaspora each national grouping has a spiritual meaning, identity and purpose, and therefore has a long-term existence, only if it contributes towards the creation of Local Churches. This is the case in North America, Western Europe, Oceania and Latin America. If this contribution is not positive, if it is nationalist in any form, sectarian in any form, cultish in any form, divisive in any form, political in any form, if it looks only to the past and not to the future also, then the grouping will inevitably die out like the barren fig-tree. It will not be fit for purpose and the dead will bury the dead. This is the warning we give.

  1. The Judgement of God

We have always challenged sectarian disuniters with their extremisms, which are always allied to the secular, with political parties and ideologies. A little like fools for Christ, we say what the disuniters do not want to hear. Of course, we unworthy ones lack the holy and prophetic vision of the holy fools, but we tell the truth. Among them there have been those who have opposed the inevitable work of the grace of God and prevented both the veneration of the saints, old or new, and all missionary work, which work is then replaced with the personality cult. we have seen it so many times in our lives.

We patiently awaited the judgement of the highest court to be revealed and take effect and so for injustices to be removed. This was always only a question of time, God’s own time. We have always known that God will reveal His Will in His own time, whatever the doubts of men who have mocked what they saw as our foolishness. Like the mockers of Noah building his ark on dry land, they mocked us. But then the flood came and we were proved right, for they even tried to take away our arks. The flood will continue and wash the mockers away. Meanwhile, the arks of salvation built for the people sail intact to their safe haven.

  1. Conclusion: The Church as the Body of Christ

Thus, if the only interests of a grouping are power, property, money or a divisive and destructive ideology, either nationalist or sectarian, with all the injustices which stem from such interests, it will die out. As for us, we have always rejected the institutionalised corporations of the modern scribes and pharisees, who are more interested in worldly property, tyrannical power, earthly glory and ugly lucre, than in the pastoral needs of the flock. But we accept the Church as the Body of Christ, the place of salvation of human souls.

This is why we act as missionaries: not because we wanted to, but because there was no-one else to do it. For nearly fifty years we have accepted the Cross of apostolic missionary work to serve the people, not because we wanted to, but because there was nobody else to do it. We have ever supported heartfelt Faith against dead institutions, apostolic Hope against money-loving worldliness, compassionate Love against dry bureaucracy. But above all we have rejected the evident lack of love of those who oppose Christ’s Holy Church.

Two More Questions and Answers from Recent Correspondence on the Orthodox Church

Why in your view has the January preparatory meeting for the so-called Council not talked in depth about and resolved the really important issues, like the Diaspora, Autocephaly, the Calendar and even the Diptychs or heresies like Ecumenism, Sophianism and Darwinism?

V. M., Paris

Since the draft documents from the preparatory meeting were published in Russian on Thursday (all thanks to the Russian Church for such openness), more and more people have contacted me. Discussions are now going to enter into parish life as people (and bishops as well!) discover what has been going on behind the scenes for over fifty years. As translations come out in other languages, we can expect stormy debate. That is good, perfectly natural, because the faithful love the Church and care about Her.

On this subject one Romanian monk in Romania wrote to me with an amusing question: ‘Is this a private Council or can any Orthodox take part?’ I thought that very apt in summing up the secrecy of the agenda, let alone the negotiations. As Fr Theodoe Zisis put it at the anti-Council meeting in Moldova: ‘Is this a Church Council or a Masonic lodge?’ It is very strange that not all bishops can take part, so that of the 354 bishops of the Russian Church, only 24 can take part and, overall, of the 750 or so Orthodox bishops worldwide, scarcely 200 will take part. (If my figures are wrong, will a reader please let me know and I will correct them).

A pious Ukrainian lady from the Ukraine wrote to me with the very relevant question: ‘What do we need a Council for? Everything of importance was long ago decided at the Seven Councils.’ You cannot help agreeing with her. The draft documents published by the preparatory meeting are largely pastoral and could have been written by any parish priest or any educated layperson. They did not need scores of bishops to meet on five different occasions. We do not need a Council to tell us that fasting is important! Where are the theological, moral and dogmatic issues? I cannot see them.

Christological heresies like Sophianism were analyzed and condemned by saints like St John of Shanghai and the future St Seraphim of Sofia, as well as Local Councils of both parts of the Russian Church in the 1930s. St Justin (Popovich) and the ROCOR Council of Bishops of 1983 have expressed the Orthodox thinking on the heresy of Ecumenism. And as for Darwinism, nobody accepts it, all reject it. It contradicts the whole of Scripture and the Fathers. All three are heresies and were (indirectly) dealt with by the Seven Councils under the name of Arianism.

I think that the question of the Diptychs will be resolved in time quite naturally. The present order of the Local Churches dates back to the fourth century. It is absurd that tiny ancient groups in the Middle East should take precedence over the Russian and Romanian churches, which are far bigger. A lot of this goes back to the fall of the Russian Church in 1917; before that it took de facto precedence, as it is coming to do now again and all the Local Churches, except for politicized Constantinople, now tend to look to the Russian Church as their natural leader. It is all a question of size – and that has changed since the fourth century. Of course if one of the ancient Patriarchates like Alexandria, numbering one million today, on a canonical territory numbering one billion (!), were to start consequent missionary work as the future St Nectarios had wanted to do over a century ago, it could become the largest Patriarchate and so take de facto precedence. (The present de jure precedence makes a laughing stock of its claimants).

Again the question of the calendar will also be resolved only by time. The few Orthodox who have fallen away from the Orthodox calendar under political pressure will eventually return. Everyone admits that it was a mistake. We must be patient and wait for the repentance of their leaders. That is why the issue has had to be removed at the insistence of Patriarch Kyrill, who clearly saw that the new calendarist leaders are not only not ready to repent, but are still actually justifying their error! (This is also why the document on relations with heterodox is written in such a bureaucratic language of compromise and not dogmatic clarity – we have had to be patient with the ecumenists, awaiting their repentance).

The problem of the Diaspora (and the questions of autocephaly and to some extent autonomy are connected with this) is also one that can only be resolved with time. The Local Church that, if God wills, sets up autonomous and then autocephalous new Local Churches in the Diaspora, and so gives it canonical order, will be the Church that does the most missionary work in the Diaspora. All the other Diaspora groups are destined to die out. That is a fact.

For example, in the 1930s the Rue Daru jurisdiction had some seventy parishes and communities (admittedly, many very small) in the Paris Region. Today it has about six small parishes in that Region. Why? Simply because most of their parishes have died out. They were for Russians only. The children and the grandchildren of those Russians became French and decided that ‘the Church is only for old people’. Logically. The same thing is now happening to the Greek Cypriot parishes in England. Issued largely from immigration from Cyprus in the 1950s, they too are now dying out, their descendants, some of whom I meet every month, understand nothing, are often unable even to make the sign of the cross.

I do not think that there will be any solution to the Diaspora problem until the vast majority in the Diaspora – therefore tens and hundreds of thousands – are local faithful or think of themselves as local faithful, whatever their origin – and need their own Autocephalous Local Church. (And by faithful, I mean faithful to the Tradition, not to some half-hearted, semi-Protestant, secularist compromise). Then remaining foreign-language parishes can be absorbed into it in separate deaneries or even dioceses, but underneath a central Local Church structure.

You may think that I am advocating the OCA solution. That is not the case, since the OCA solution was a failure. Why? Firstly, because it contained only a very small number of the total Diaspora in North America and secondly because it based itself on a modernist ideology, not on the Tradition. Its autocephaly was a political operation of the Cold War. You cannot build a new Local Church when the majority are not with you and when you base yourself on an incredibly old-fashioned 1960s type modernist fad, instead of on the eternal Tradition of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, I can see no hope for settling the issue of the Diaspora until such a time comes, a time when the majority follow the Tradition and need (not want) their own Local Church. Anything imposed from above will simply be divisive.

Why are modernists who are opposed to the Church so full specifically of fantasy and spite?

J.L, London

I think you are being a bit uncharitable! Most of them are simply naïve and still have to make their way in the Church from the fringes inwards. Eventually all the sincere people will integrate. The repentant Fr Theodore Zisis is a very good example. Be patient. The Church is a journey, a pilgrimage, people make their way at their own speed. You cannot rush spiritual development and depth.

However, you do have a point, that the most few aggressive modernists do suffer from both fantasy and spite. Why specifically these ills?

Fantasy comes from the fact that modernists are always intellectuals and not rooted in life. Were they parish priests, prison chaplains or responsible for running monasteries or, for that matter, families, they would not suffer from fantasy. (This is a very good reason for opposing the alien institution of non-diocesan or titular bishops: their grasp of reality is often very limited).

Spite comes from the fact that until the 1980s/1990s the modernists thought that their victory over the Church was imminent. We who followed the Tradition appeared to be an oppressed minority, the little flock, crushed by them into a dying ghetto. They were wrong, as I wrote at the time. And they were wrong because they failed to recognize that the Church belongs to Christ, not to them or to us who strive, however weakly, to follow the Tradition. It was a classic case of ‘man proposes, but God disposes’.

What makes them bitter, and therefore spiteful, is the fact that the Russian Church has not only survived atheist oppression, but is beginning to revive (which is why they attack the Russian Church with an immense and self-justifying hatred). And this is true of the smaller Local Churches, some of which are also beginning to revive in the wake of the Russian Church’s beginning revival. Their great project, a modernizing ‘Pan-Orthodox Council’ in imitation of the Second Vatican Council, which they have actively been plugging for over fifty years, is coming to naught.

They are bitter at that and lash out at anyone who attempts to follow the Tradition. They thought, ‘We have won’, dismissing popular piety (what the aristocratic Fr Alexander Schmemann patronizingly called ‘liturgical piety’) in their haughty way, as dying out. ‘So near and yet so far’, is their frustrated cry. In humility they should instead admit that they were wrong and simply repent. They are welcome to return to the fold, as Fr Theodore Zisis. We all make mistakes when we are young. We should make their repentance easy for them.

Two Questions and Answers from Recent Correspondence on the Orthodox Church

An American Orthodox friend of mine has recently returned from a parish in Moscow. She was quite disappointed. She described the parish as filled with young, narrow-minded literalists and fundamentalists, worried about ritual, the letter of the word, narrow interpretations and food regulations. Is this the case?

A.J., San Francisco

A church of 164 million contains many different sorts of people. I would not judge it by a few recent English-speaking converts in a parish in Moscow. You will find everything in the Russian Church, from literalists to liberals. We are not a monolithic Church and people are at different stages of integration or ‘Churching’. You do not judge a Church by the unChurched. I think that it is a pity that your friend did not meet in Moscow Churched people who are far deeper, who long ago got over both literalism and liberalism and are reaching towards and living for the Source of the Tradition, the Holy Spirit. I do feel that your friend was judging from her own American criteria and that her criticisms have more to do with her own psychology and understanding than objective reality.

I live in the US and Orthodoxy here is a mess of infighting, jurisdictional competitions and loveless converts who are focused on the outward dress of Orthodoxy, apparently immune to any concept of fraternal charity….Your Orthodox Patriarchs have embraced the Vatican II spirit with its false ecumenism, synagogue-visiting photo-ops, Muslim-hugging and WCC hypocrisy. (Your own Patriarch in Moscow was at the Canberra WCC convocations in the early 90’s… have you seen the video-taped documentation of those blasphemous events?)

T., New York

I have extracted this from your letter, which explains that you are a recent convert from a very varied but traditionalist and rather sectarian background, including over two decades as a Protestant and then some thirty years as a traditionalist Catholic, and that you are not yet settled in the Church. I noted also that your letter was anonymous. Usually, I do not reply to anonymous letters and delete them automatically, but I think yours raises some very good points of interest to others, which I would like to answer.

First of all, I think you look outside in. Viewed from the outside, the Orthodox Church is indeed an untidy mess (just like that described in the epistles of the Apostle Paul), but that is not very important. We are concerned with saving our souls. Yes, you can find loveless converts, but you can also find the opposite. You can find St John of Shanghai and St Nicholas of Zhicha, you can find Jordanville, Wayne and the monasteries of Fr Ephraim. It does seem to me that you have been mixing with the wrong crowd! Orthodoxy is what you make it – a series of empty and pointless arguments about details, infighting and immature convert triumphalism, or else the source of your salvation. The main problem of converts is precisely that they focus on externals, outside in, whereas grounded Orthodox look from the inside. Do not be superficial. Integrate into the Church. Seek the salvation of your soul, not its destruction. Love God and love your neighbour.

Your second point again raises the problem of superficiality. Who cares about the individual opinions of Patriarchs? We are not papists. Patriarchs are here today and gone tomorrow. Yes, several of them have been forced into political correctness by currents from the US and the EU over the last seventy years (just like the Popes of Rome). However, to say that all the Patriarchs have embraced the Vatican II spirit is untrue. Life in the parishes and monasteries goes on in the same way as before. We ignore such human foibles, being too busy living to worry about them.

As regards the events in Canberra 25 years ago, which the now Patriarch Kyrill took some part in and were raised at the Fourth All-Diaspora Council in 2006, we knew all about them at the time, when you were still a traditionalist Catholic. Of course, we shook our heads in disbelief when we saw it, prayed for him and got on with our lives. And we are still here. And look at Patriarch Kyrill now. The defender of Tradition! Why not admit the power of repentance? We all made mistakes in our youth, but we have moved on. Learn about repentance and forgiveness and you will find peace, instead of the continual rage which consumes you. Your job is to save your soul, not the Church, Christ does that because the Church belongs to Him, not to us.