2024 opens in sadness for all the Local Orthodox Churches.
In 2021 well over half the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) Diocese in England left that New York-based branch of the Moscow Patriarchate. This was because of the new ROCOR schism against the Western European Archdiocese (WEA) branch of the same Moscow Patriarchate. The Archdiocese had accepted a Roman Catholic priest into its clergy in the normal Russian Orthodox way, by confession and concelebration. However, for that reason the new American ROCOR, strongly old calendarist and imposing a quite outrageous and very aggressive policy of Americanisation, to the point of imposing the American language (!), had broken off communion with the WEA. This was unthinkable under the old Russian European ROCOR. This schism then spread Europewide under another ex-Lutheran ROCOR bishop. And then the whole ROCOR Synod backed up its young, inexperienced and non-seminary trained American bishop, ‘converted’ from Lutheranism, who had instigated the schism.
In the meantime, the Moscow Mother-Church, of both ROCOR and the Western European Archdiocese, remained silent, for unexplained reasons known only to itself. Church discipline appeared and appears to be breaking down. However, any number of Orthodox bishops fell over themselves, and are still falling over themselves (too late), to receive the group of six parishes, including with by far the largest church, the senior priest of the Diocese (with nearly forty years of conscientious service), several other clergy and 5,000 people who left ROCOR on account of the American schism. This group are now thriving in the canonical Patriarchate of Romania, despite the absurd ‘suspensions’ and ‘defrockings’, with which they were punished by ROCOR after being received into the Romanian Church. Their position was all about standing up for the Orthodox Truth, canonical Church practice and generations of faithfulness to Russian Orthodoxy.
This is perhaps the fifth time (or is it more?) that ROCOR has faced schisms on account of its adoption of and (too late) abandonment of old calendarist positions on the reception of Non-Orthodox by rebaptism. All these occasions go back to its contamination by the fanatical Greek old calendarist ideology, with its easily identifiable convert language movement (‘Pascha’ for Easter, ‘Nativity’ for Christmas, ‘hierarch’ for bishop, ‘temple’ for church, ‘chant’ for sing etc), in the 1960s. The best-known occasions were perhaps the Guildford (England) schism of 1976, the Boston schism of 1986 and then the multiple schisms of 2007, including that of the Brookwood monastic community and London convent in England at that time.
In any case, the 2021 scandal in England spread back to North America. It turns out that there at least one ROCOR bishop there had actually been receiving unrebaptised Orthodox converts from Non-Orthodoxy by rebaptism, even though these converts (surely, by now former converts?) had been inside the Orthodox Church and receiving communion for years! This is despite the Nicene Creed, which states: ‘I believe in one Baptism for the remission of sins’. The ROCOR Synod appears to be in chaos, split down the middle. Not only does it face responsibilities for its uncanonical actions in England, but also in North America.
Here the recent concelebration of Fr Alexander Belya, (now again bishop-elect) with the Romanian Orthodox Church also has to be faced by the split ROCOR Synod. Fr Alexander, a former ROCOR priest chosen by the ROCOR Synod to be bishop and then suddenly dropped and ‘defrocked’ (!), was persecuted by the ROCOR Synod for still unknown reasons (the court case for libel is ongoing). Before being ‘defrocked’, he had already joined the Patriarchate of Constantinople with a large group of similarly appalled ex-ROCOR clergy and some 20 parishes. His concelebration with the Romanian Church means that, yet again, the Romanian Church does not recognise the actions of ROCOR. The latter is proving to be yet another (irrelevant) irritant to the Romanian Patriarch, who ignores all the increasingly strange letters from the New York group. The Moscow Mother-Church can be none too happy with its New York representatives who are discrediting themselves and the whole Russian Church through their eccentric, indeed scandalous, conduct and persecution of the faithful.
The latest twist to this sorry rebaptism saga is the case of at least one priest of the Antiochian Diocese in England, a certain Fr Matei. Having freely joined the Antiochian Diocese relatively recently, he decided that his bishop (and presumably therefore all Antiochian bishops) are heretical and stopped commemorating him. This was because this bishop follows the Orthodox practice of receiving Protestants who have been baptised by water in the Name of the Holy Trinity, by chrismation. (This is the normal practice of 1,000 Orthodox bishops – the opposite of the abnormal and new ROCOR practice). On top of this, this Fr Matei objects to the old Antiochian practice of giving Non-Chalcedonians communion, which is also a practice of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Although all the Local Churches receive Protestant converts by chrismation, they do not give communion to Non-Chalcedonians. However, they do accept that Antioch and Constantinople do this as their local practice, and that is no reason to break off communion with them. What is very strange is that Fr Matei objects to these practices, as he must surely have known that these are old-established Antiochian practices from long before he so recently joined the Antiochian Diocese. (Here we see the other side of the coin to the ROCOR rebaptism schism, which is a recent innovation and quite unheard of in the old ROCOR in Western Europe). Nevertheless, in the USA, there are now other Antiochians who have suddenly woken up to the reality of long-held Antiochian practices and object to them. Where they have been all these decades remains a mystery.
All of this comes against the background of the 2018 schism between the Russian Church and various Greek Churches, such as the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria, as well as with individuals in the Greek and Cypriot Orthodox Churches, who supported setting up a fake Church on age-old Russian Orthodox canonical territory. As one correspondent has put it: ‘This is worse than Protestant dissension’.
Clearly, the solution to reverse this chaos is for all to return to canonical practices, namely of:
- Not setting up ‘Churches’ on the canonical territory of other Local Churches.
- Not refusing to concelebrate with and not breaking off communion with others because of their different practices regarding the reception of Non-Orthodox.
- Refusing to rebaptise those who have already been received by another Local Orthodox Church and who have taken communion in it.
- Suspending and defrocking only priests who have committed criminal acts (usually, the theft of money or property, or else who work as spies for the CIA or other spy agencies), or who have committed immoral acts (heterosexual, homosexual, or even pedophile), and not because priests refuse not to concelebrate with canonical Orthodox, or because they profess political opinions and vote for political parties, different from those of their bishop. (This, apparently, is considered to be disobedience and is therefore ‘uncanonical’!!).
- Suspending and defrocking bishops for criminal or immoral acts, instead of protecting them (for example the late Archbishop Nathanael of Vienna, (ROCOR)), Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America. Apart from them, there are other immoral, homosexual and even pedophile bishops of all nationalities, who (out of jealousy?) persecute heterosexual priests and laymen who have normal family lives.
But will any of this return to canonical practices take place?