Despite the very strong opposition of the CIA, in 2007 the New York-based émigré Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) at last entered into canonical communion with the Mother-Church, 99% of the Russian Orthodox Church (‘MP’), which is based in Moscow. At the end of the last century ROCOR had been strongly tempted by a politicised, ghetto-style, sectarian and isolationist position. It had been out of communion with the MP for over 80 years for political reasons, as Communist-enslaved Moscow had not been politically free until the 1990s. However, after this period the ROCOR position no longer made any sense.
Indeed, there were those of us who for years since the 1990s had battled for the establishment of this canonical communion in our struggle to reclaim ROCOR from sectarianism. Finally, we were present at our victory over the ROCOR temptation of sectarianism in Moscow in 2007, rewarded at last. Clearly, from 2007 on, ROCOR was called on to merge with other Orthodox in the Diaspora, contributing the liturgical and ascetic heritage of the old ROCOR to others, especially, but not only, to Non-Russian Orthodox who often lacked it. The later Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), who like the rest of us loved the old ROCOR of St John of Shanghai, whom he had met, was just one of those to call on it to do so.
However, to our enormous sadness, ROCOR refused these invitations and overtures. Instead of contributing to a solid basis for the establishment of new Local Churches in Western Europe, Northern America and Oceania, the new ROCOR gradually allied itself with extreme right-wing, ex-Protestant neophytes. These were isolationist sectarians with very, very little idea of the real Russian Orthodox Tradition and the Russian language, history and culture, let alone the general Orthodox Tradition. Such individuals were called ‘crazy converts’ by ordinary parishioners, Russian and Non-Russian alike. Moreover, to our profound shock, racist hatred was openly expressed by this new ROCOR for Non-Russian Orthodox, and by at least one new American ROCOR bishop. He also publicly declared that’ the Patriarch of Constantinople is possessed’. We were all horrified.
With the increasingly serious dementia and physical ailments of the then ROCOR First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), ROCOR gradually began to drift away from the Church, to whose communion it had returned in 2007. Certain extremist individuals, seeking revenge for our victory over sectarianism in 2007, and perhaps regretting the cutting off of generous CIA subsidies to ROCOR, usurped the Metropolitan’s position. They began using his electronic signature on very harsh documents which favoured their extremist positions.
Thus, a whole series of utterly anti-canonical actions took place, quite noticeably from 2016 on. These included the ousting of well-respected traditional ROCOR priests, even one of its old archbishops, all those linked with pre-Revolutionary Russia. Then there was also the Fr Alexander Belya affair. In this affair, a Ukrainian hieromonk, selected to be a bishop by ROCOR, was abruptly accused of extraordinary and still unproven crimes and then ousted and ‘defrocked’ by American ROCOR bishops, even though he, like many others, had already taken refuge in a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction.
What was the reason for this? We cannot be certain, but we can imagine the opposition to and jealousy of a seminary-trained, fluent Russian and Ukrainian-speaking episcopal candidate in ROCOR on the part of non-fluent speakers among certain members of the episcopate and candidates for the episcopate. As clergy of the old, traditional ROCOR were ejected, there had followed the consecration of extreme right-wing convert bishops and the ordination of extreme right-wing convert priests, all of Protestant backgrounds. They were now taking over, pushing those of the Tradition out according to plan.
The new ones wanted to replace grounded Orthodox like Fr Alexander Belya and senior clergy of the old ROCOR, who had nothing to do with sectarianism. The main interest of the new American ROCOR clergy appears to be in attracting extremist right-wing Protestants to their supposedly Russian Orthodox ROCOR jurisdiction. They certainly despised ordinary Russians, who were told (in front of me) to learn English! As supposed members of the Orthodox Church, these converts would quote out of context and misunderstood canons instead of quoting out of context and misunderstood chapter and verse. The dark and depressing spirit of the Puritan pharisees and of Calvinist New England witch-hunters remained the same.
As a result of such intrigues, in England there began the scandal of a very young and very inexperienced ROCOR convert bishop, received into the Church from Lutheranism by chrismation (!), who had only been in ROCOR for a few years (!). Under the influence of a newly-received old calendarist priest, he dictatorially (no discussion, let alone disagreement, would be allowed) even forbade his clergy to concelebrate with an ex-Catholic priest of the MP and his people to take communion in the MP Russian Orthodox jurisdiction of this priest. This priest had been received into the MP in the normal Russian Orthodox way by confession and concelebration. This young convert bishop created a schism, but, amazingly, he was actually backed up by other convert bishops! Clearly, the disease was already ingrained.
After up to 50 years of faithfulness to the old ROCOR, over a dozen clergy and thousands of people left the new ROCOR because of this convert bishop’s schism. They wanted to be in communion with their families and friends. Thus, the convert bishop’s schism from the MP led to the loss of well over half his diocese, the vital and living part, which did not serve in tiny ghetto-groups of converts in small rented chapels, backrooms and garden sheds. Although warned well in advance of exactly how many clergy, real parishes and people he was going to lose, he, backed by the American Synod, still went ahead with this insanity, to the distress of the MP, which looked on in disbelief and whose Patriarch told him not to do it. Some in the MP called for a ‘psychiatric ambulance’. Instead of obeying his own Patriarch, the young convert bishop proceeded to ‘suspend’ and then defrock’ clergy of another jurisdiction!
Although the MP were sympathetic to the ex-ROCOR group, who were only supporting traditional Russian Orthodox theology and practice, the MP could not take in the group who had petitioned the MP to do this. This was because the MP was frightened of upsetting political relations with the increasingly deviant and aggressive ROCOR, which was blackmailing the MP: ‘If you do this, we shall not attend your Council of Bishops and we shall go into schism with you all’. This fear of blackmail will not last. For the moment distracted by the Ukraine, from which affair Moscow will clearly emerge triumphant, as has always been obvious, though Moscow’s attitude in the Ukraine have repeatedly been condemned by the anti-Russian American ROCOR (!), as also by the CIA (a coincidence?!), sooner or later the MP will call ROCOR’s bluff. Enough is enough!
Now the convert bishop has, contradicting himself, concelebrated with an Antiochian bishop, who has just defrocked one of his priests, who had objected to the standard Antiochian (and Orthodox) practice of receiving converts by chrismation, and not rebaptism. This priest, who openly calls his bishop and all Antiochian bishops ‘heretics’ (!), had also objected to the long-standing local Antiochian practice of giving communion to nominally Miaphysite Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians and Eritreans. The defrocked Antiochian priest has received the sympathy of many ROCOR converts in the USA. After all, as they logically point out, in the USA ROCOR there even has one bishop who openly, and he claims with an official blessing, rebaptises unrebaptised converts who have already been members of the Orthodox Church for many years! (He calls this by the unknown and heretical term ‘corrective baptism’).
The Antiochian bishop in question, Metr Silouan (Oner), has specifically declared that he will defrock any priests who carry out such ‘corrective baptisms’. He has also said that any jurisdiction that does this has ‘schismatic tendencies’ and these people are ‘extremists’. As well we know. But you have to suffer, be persecuted and slandered for proclaiming the Church Truth. Logically, ROCOR will have to fall out of communion with yet another Local Church, the Antiochian, painting themselves ever more into their sectarian corner. Or else it must renounce the practices of its own bishops in England and in the USA.
Clearly, once the distraction of the Ukraine is over, the MP will have to intervene and bring order. As just one example, Fr Alexander Belya and his large group of parishes, mainly ex-ROCOR, could be made bishop for the MP parishes in North America, if Moscow were to take him in from the Greek Church, where he and most of the others were forced to take refuge from ROCOR Protestant sectarianism and, presumably, from clerical jealousy. It looks as though we are seeing the death rattle of ROCOR, which has been riding roughshod over the canons and obedience to the Mother-Church.
ROCOR will have to make up its mind whether it accepts the Orthodox Tradition of the Mother-Church, or if it wants to be just another weird American old calendarist sect, a ROCOR, Russian Old Calendarists Outside Russia, made up of crazy converts from Protestantism and of children of immigrants who long ago lost their roots. Moscow will no longer tolerate the persecution of Orthodox inside ROCOR. A split inside ROCOR, between the increasingly fewer actual Russian Orthodox and the new sectarians now looks inevitable.
It is all so tiresome. Again and again the same indiscipline and ignorance on the part of ROCOR. Just when you think it is back in the saving fold of the Church, its American wing again rejects canonical Orthodoxy. This is all a repeat of baptism controversies like that of Palmer in the 19th century and more recently those in ROCOR in the 1970s and 1980s. We have seen it all before. Is ROCOR condemned to repeat the same extremist, old calendarist-type errors in every generation? If so, it is time that it was brought to heel by Moscow, which alone can instruct it to stop persecuting Orthodox. If it refuses, then Moscow will be forced to step in to protect the persecuted, saving them from the schisms, anti-canonical acts and anti-Christian persecutions of ROCOR.
When I was last in California, in 2006, as a speaker at the Fourth ROCOR Council, I expressed surprise at the bizarre things I saw in San Francisco. A priest from the East Coast explained to me with a smile: ‘When God made America, he tilted it slightly, so that all the oddballs ran down to California’. In England, Russians, Romanians, Greeks, French, Germans and those of other nations behave themselves and are polite. They are welcome here. It is only certain Americans who come here, swaggering around like Mormons, Scientologists and members of other US sects and cults, trying to change the way you speak!, as though they owned the place, and are spectacularly rude and insult the local people. They do not behave as gentlemen. You are not welcome here and you should go home. American ROCOR: You have become a laughing-stock throughout Europe. Your time is up, the farce is over, take the psychiatric ambulance and go. It is time for mismanaged ROCOR to hand over to the MP, who are competent. It is what we have been saying for years.