Tag Archives: Orthodox Unity

Some Frank Thoughts about the Jurisdictional Situation in the Isles of Britain and Ireland

Introduction: Division

Seven of the fourteen universally recognized Local Orthodox Churches have diasporas, that is, jurisdictions outside their homelands. However, four of those seven Local Churches, the Serbian, Bulgarian, Georgian and, for the most part, the Romanian Patriarchates, are mononational, catering only for one ethnicity. Of the remaining three groups, that is, the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch and Moscow, the Patriarchate of Moscow is separated into two parts, one dependent on Moscow, the other based outside Russia and autonomous.

This separation is because we have to await the full implementation of the 2007 agreement between the two parts of the Russian Church and so, locally, the merging of the parishes of the Sourozh Diocese, still dependent on the Church inside Russia, into ROCOR (the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia). Each of these four above groups of three Local Churches, Constantinople, Antioch and the two Russian groups, has its own strengths and weaknesses. In chronological order of their ethnic presence in Great Britain and Ireland, they are:


Firstly, there is the Thyateira Diocese, part of the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople, formed after the Russian Revolution. This is largely made up of post-War Greek Cypriot immigrants and their descendants. Representing Cypriot national clubs (even mainland Greeks and Cretans can find acceptance difficult), their parishes commonly tell English people who try to join them ‘to go away’ (and sometimes less politely than that). Without any missionary concept, they now face a generational crisis, as the original immigrants die out and their descendants, understanding hardly any Greek, have drifted away from the Church entirely.

This jurisdiction also includes some western Ukrainians, formerly of Polish nationality, very nationalistic and until relatively recently uncanonical, who are now also dying out. And it also includes some 250 mainly elderly, Establishment ex-Anglicans, rather naïve and Russophobic admirers of the late Metr Antony (Bloom) with his peculiar and unique variety of Orthodoxy. The great problem of the foreign-named Thyateira Diocese is that it faces extinction as its parishes literally die out. Those who immigrated in the 1950s and 1960s have now reached old age and it has to face up to its failure to keep its young people – the same mistake which the Russian dioceses also had to face up to thirty to forty years ago.


Secondly, there is the Diocese of the Isles (of Britain and Ireland) of the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), also formed after the Russian Revolution. Although in the 1930s it had its own Bishop of London, it is now very small, though at least solid after the recent crisis, which dated back to the 1970s. At that time elements in its headquarters administration in New York accepted money from the CIA and political motives began to divide it from the persecuted Russian Church inside Russia. Politically and nationalistically motivated Russians, many of them in the USA working for the CIA, together with sectarian Greeks and conservative, Protestant-minded converts (in England converts of a sectarian Anglo-Catholic background), began to dominate it.

Traditional Russian Orthodox spiritual values, represented by Metropolitans Antony and Anastasy, the Jordanville Monastery, St John of Shanghai, Fr Seraphim (Rose) and the whole older generation of clergy and laity, were thus somewhat overshadowed by politics. The crisis came to a head in the two decades between 1986 and 2007, with the victory of traditional spiritual values and consequent unity with the by then free Church inside Russia and their common and uniting veneration of the New Martyrs and Confessors. Today, the great problem of this well-named local diocese of ROCOR is its lack of a resident bishop, which means that growth is painfully slow and the diocese numbers only about 2,000.


Unlike ROCOR, the Russian Orthodox Sourozh Diocese, formed in the 1950s and dependent on the Church Inside Russia, has a resident Russian bishop. However, it suffers from a severe lack of clergy, with many of the few clergy left elderly or untrained, and from a crisis of a lack of property. These two difficulties are both the sad legacy of the late Metr Antony (Bloom), who instead of building up a diocese, which he refused to do, built up a highly divisive personality. Belonging in ethos not to the Russian Church but to the liberal Paris School, his diocese, mainly unvisited by him, largely never knew the Russian Church Tradition at all.

However, since 2006, under new management, Sourozh has begun to return to the practices of ROCOR and the identical practices of the Church Inside Russia. Thus, icons of the New Martyrs and the Royal Martyrs have at last appeared in its Cathedral and elsewhere and its bookshops now sell the once banned books by Fr Seraphim (Rose). The great problem of the foreign-named Sourozh Diocese is its inability to turn outwards to the world around it, thus providing a real (and not fictitious) infrastructure of real, staffed parishes for local Russians and for English people. Its weak infrastructure, the legacy of the visionless past, is a real problem.


The fourth, smallest and most recently-formed group, under the Patriarchate of Antioch and still awaiting the appointment of a diocesan bishop, is often dismissed by outsiders as a club for retired Anglican vicars and their small flocks, with no consciousness of the real Orthodox Tradition. Its members, so it is said by its critics, have confused joining the Orthodox Church (through its Arab branch) with actually becoming Orthodox. Its Anglican ethos and practices has brought some to call it ‘Angliochian’. Certainly it is highly clericalized, one wonders if Non-Anglican vicars will ever be ordained for it and it is not attractive to Non-Anglicans, who feel out of place in it.

However, beyond such criticisms, fair or not, this group is probably the most vibrant of these four dioceses. And, in fairness, it must be said that its founding members did in 1995 ask to join both the dioceses of Sourozh and Thyateira. Through no fault of their own, they were refused, as the bishops of both dioceses were highly compromised by ecumenical accords with the Church of England and their own divisive attitudes. Sadly, they did not think to ask to join the uncompromised ROCOR. This was partly because, with an Establishment Anglican mentality, the Anglicans in question rejected the Orthodox calendar and the other disciplines of traditional Orthodoxy as practised by ROCOR, and partly because ROCOR, tragically without a local resident bishop, was also still dealing with its own inner crisis, which was not fully resolved until 2007.

Conclusion: Unity?

As we can see from the above, opportunities for unity have been lost in the past, although at least the two Russian dioceses are now spiritually united. It is especially tragic that the Antiochian diocese had to be formed because of the ecumenical compromises of the Russian and Greek bishops. It is even more tragic that the only local figure who could have united everyone, the now elderly Metr Kallistos (Ware), has for thirty years been trapped as a titular bishop in the Thyateira Diocese, unable to act as a diocesan bishop.

Had he overcome his Establishment concerns and joined either Russian diocese in his youth, or the Antiochian group in 1995, he would most certainly be their respected diocesan bishop today. Lacking him and a traditional Orthodox monastery to supply unity, it seems therefore that unity can only now come as a result of the vast changes in the wider Orthodox world since the fall of Communism inside Russia and the restoration of Holy Rus as a world power and therefore as a centre for worldwide Orthodox unity, as it was before 1917.