Tag Archives: Rise and Fall

Q and A on the Shipwreck of the Russian Orthodox Church, 1 December 2022: Follow the Money or Follow the Saints

The darker the night, the brighter the stars.

Q: Why did the émigré Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), based in New York, enter into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), based in Moscow, in 2007? I heard it was for money.

A: It was definitely not for money. No money was involved. This story comes from the self-justification of old calendarists, who left ROCOR rather than enter into communion with the MP and had to give a reason for it. Ironically, some ignorant people in Moscow at the time – and I was there – said that the link-up was because Moscow wanted ‘all the ROCOR money’! Of course, that was an inherited Soviet fantasy, which imagined that all emigres were wealthy aristocrats. ROCOR, which was and is in any case only 1% of the size of the MP, had very little money in those days and Jordanville had survived till the mid-1980s only thanks to handouts from the CIA.

Q: Why did Moscow want to enter into communion?

A: Moscow wanted the link-up for political prestige: if the anti-Communist ROCOR entered into communion, it would mean that Moscow was clearly no longer tainted by Communism, which had fallen 16 years before 2007 in 1991. They needed the ROCOR rubber stamp on that. Patriarch Kyrill himself told a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan whom I know well this very fact.

Q: But surely the MP bishops had KGB code-names?

A: When it still existed, the KGB gave everyone code-names, including Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Neither of them was a KGB agent – as far as I know! Who knows, maybe they had a code-name for you!

Q: But weren’t the old calendarists justified? Surely the MP was corrupt and controlled by the KGB?

A: The MP? You mean the MP bishops? Bishops are not the Church. The MP hierarchy had been held hostage before under the Soviets, yes. And it is true that bishops then were forbidden to speak freely under the Soviet Union, when the KGB still existed. But actually ‘controlled by the KGB’? I spoke to many bishops, priests and laypeople of the MP in private conversations and they were quite free with me! In any case, all that was over 30 years ago. The KGB no longer existed in 2007 and most of the men who were bishops in the KGB’s time are no longer alive today.

True, some of the MP bishops were then, and are now, corrupted by power and money, but that is nothing to do with Soviet rule. Some of the Russian bishops before the Revolution – and judging by their behaviour after the February Revolution perhaps most of them – were corrupted by power and money. That is just human, not systematic. That is and that was their personal choice, not a Church dogma or because of a political system.

For instance, one of the present defrocked MP bishops, Maxim, is in London now. He was already notorious as a loose-living young priest in London a few years ago, but he still got made a bishop, after which he was accused of drug-dealing (no surprises there, for those who knew him) and ran away from police arrest in Russia. Of course, here the authorities gave this criminal asylum. All he had to say to get asylum was that he was against Putin! Two other bishops, both called Ignaty, are in monasteries in Russia, for repentance after moral crimes. What is remarkable is that all three unworthy candidates somehow got made bishops. How was that possible? That is the real question. Why are there so many clearly unworthy bishops in both parts of the Russian Church?

Q: So why did the link-up take place in 2007, if no money was involved? What was in it for ROCOR?

A: It was to stop the already very isolated ROCOR becoming a Protestant-style right-wing sect of the old calendarist variety (which it has now largely become). Unity was the great desire of Metr Laurus and all the Church wing in ROCOR, who could see the danger and temptation of becoming a sect. ROCOR’s only remaining friends, the Serbian Church and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, both advised ROCOR to enter communion with the MP, or else it would become a sect and fall out of communion even with them.

However, the desire of the political wing in ROCOR was to be sectarian, they liked their isolation and life in the ‘One True Church’ ghetto. So some of the isolationists left in 2007 for multiple old calendarist-style, sectarian ‘One True Church’ groups, one of them CIA-financed. Others stayed behind. Those who stayed behind have contributed to some of the present problems. For example, they took in an extremist priest who was with the right-wing mob at the Capitol on 6 January 2021 (the OCA quite rightly did not want him any more after that). Then there were the open recommendations to vote Trump from ROCOR bishops. In other words, American ROCOR refused to keep out of US party politics and even told us, Non-Americans, to support Trump!

Q: Where exactly do the problems and scandals in ROCOR today come from?

A: The problems come from the corruption by power and money of individuals in ROCOR, which at one time was mostly above and outside that. There was, after all, in those days, no money to be corrupted by in ROCOR. There was still nobility and honour, bishops were still servants of the Church, and nobody mentioned the dread phrase, ‘we bishops are princes of the Church’. ROCOR decided to be corrupted, it was under no obligation to be so. In other words, individuals in ROCOR corrupted themselves with American money, the dollar.

This was a tendency that was already present among a few in the 1960s (the ones who put St John of Shanghai and Western Europe on trial in the fleshpots of San Francisco), but the trend grew enormously in the 2000s. The younger generation, who never knew the old, principled and poor emigre ROCOR of St John of Shanghai and others, fell, and they took ROCOR down with them. This will go into the history books and be marvelled at by future generations.

Going to the USA after World War II finished ROCOR, not going to the post-USSR. ROCOR was corrupted by the USA, not by the USSR! That is the irony of it. ROCOR’s corruption was nothing to do with the MP. That is not to say that there are not parallels or that the MP does not have the same problems and even worse. As we have said, what is sad is that corrupt individuals have been made bishops in both parts of the Russian Church, rather than being exposed beforehand and dealt with before they could bring their corruption up to the episcopal level. These anti-pastors and anti-missionaries who with their profound desire for money and property, are mini-oligarchs and have wrecked whole dioceses. They are wolves in archpastors’ clothing

How did they get away with it? How did they deceive those above them? Were those above them blind? Did these individuals corrupt or bribe those above them? Here there are many, many unanswered questions. We understand that the Russian Church only had 150 bishops at the time in 2007. Another 250 have been made since then. But was there no examination of the candidates first? We have indeed returned to the scandals of the fourth century when most bishops were corrupt.

Q: Is the Ukraine affair and ROCOR support for President Putin the end of ROCOR?

A: Yes, it probably is, but only as the last nail in the coffin, which ROCOR had already decided to make for itself long before 24 February 2022. If the Ukraine had not happened, there would have been something else. ROCOR was already on its way out, as it had refused to take the only logical path of survival, that of helping to build up Local Churches. With so little humility, mercy and love, it had become spiritually irrelevant, a tiny Church of tiny ghetto communities in rented properties and wooden sheds, with very little idea of the authentic Russian Orthodox tradition, let alone other Orthodox traditions.

Q: What about the Ukraine and the MP?

A: Above all, the Ukrainian affair is the end of the highly centralised Soviet and post-Soviet Moscow Patriarchate, as it developed after 1925, after the repose/martyrdom of the holy Patriarch Tikhon, who was also, by the way, an American citizen and after whom a New York street has now been named. It is the end of the ‘Soviet Orthodoxy’ of Metropolitan Sergius and those who admire him, the end of erastianism, the end of that strange mixture of centralised bureaucracy, protocols, narrow nationalism, ritualism and superstition that was accepted on account of the ignorance of people, who had been held captive by Soviet atheism for three generations.

Q: What is the future?

A: Today the whole Russian Church, the MP and ROCOR, has to be recast. Both will have to change names, restructuring themselves completely and granting autocephalies, founding new Local Churches. They will both have to stop living in the past, whether centralising Soviet or CIA-funded anti-Soviet. That period is over. Both terms, MP and ROCOR, are purely Soviet and anti-Soviet, purely political and belong to a historical period in the past. They are not relevant today. An anti-corruption purge among senior clergy must take place before both parts of the Russian Church can recover and become credible once more. Now is an incredibly decadent period, when both the Church hierarchies are living under the shadow of the money-money corruption that began in the 1990s. However, great potential is still there, the potential of the New Martyrs and the New Confessors. All the corrupt have to do is to recognise and to repent for their huge errors and only then can they both move forwards.

Q: How could ROCOR have avoided compromising itself on the Ukrainian question?

A: As I said, by providing three foundation-stones for new Local Churches, that is, in Western Europe, North America and Australia. Instead of that, ROCOR continued to make out that it was Russian and a kind of super-territorial Church, refusing to work together with other local Orthodox, pridefully placing itself above them and persecuting its own clergy and people, siding with Moscow like obedient slaves. The fall from grace, from the moral high ground, has been great. But, as ever, a fall is always preceded by pride and it was the towering pride of the pharisees that destroyed ROCOR.

The refusal to help build Local Churches, to live in the here and now, thus losing generations of young people who found it all so alien, is in defiance of the Dogma of the Incarnation. The rejection of the implications of that Dogma has been an open invitation to cultivate phariseeism, sectarianism and Californian-style cultishness. And that is precisely how it has ended up: a right-wing, Protestant-style sect, like so many others in the USA, only with the folklore of exotic, purposely untranslated words to mystify the uneducated, with vestments, ritual and incense.

It is also hypocritical because today the language of the New York Synod is English. Most of its bishops cannot speak Russian correctly or grammatically. It grates on the ears of real Russians. In conversation they break into English as soon as possible. Thus, we have a pretend-Russian Church. Why not be honest and co-operate with other Orthodox locally and help build up new Local Churches? Instead of that, ROCOR has pridefully said that it is better than others, superior to them, whom it despises.

It has also been uncanonically stealing priests from Constantinople and uncanonically ‘defrocking’ pastors and even attempting to close down the communities of the canonically-minded, who with integrity object to ROCOR’s uncanonical and schismatic activities, as well as to ROCOR’s illegal attempts to seize property. (This is exactly what the present regime in Kiev is doing to canonical churches in the Ukraine, seizing them in order to close them down. Nobody will go to the seized and uncanonical churches. So that is the same situation as here).

As a result, other Local Churches are, quite rightly, refusing to concelebrate with this new ROCOR. In Europe, ROCOR is not even in communion with the MP’s own very small Parisian Archdiocese of Western Europe. It is sheer hypocrisy.

Q: But isn’t the MP also corrupt, perhaps even more so?

A: Individuals in both parts of the Russian Church have been corrupted by power and money. In the MP it is only worse because it has access to greater temptations – more power and more money. That is why all the mini-oligarchs now face the same chastisement – the war in the Ukraine. This has for ever divided both parts of the Russian Church. The Russian Church is no longer an agent of unity between Russia and the Ukraine, but an agent of division.

Most Orthodox no longer want to go to Russian churches. The Cathedral they built in Paris ten years ago for 50 million euros is virtually empty, the oligarchs gone, the local people rejected, no parish community has been formed. The same in the Cathedral in Nice, where they spent 20 million euros on restoration. They have all put their petty nationalism and ritualism above Christ. The fact that they can have a war with each other shows how low the spiritual level is in both countries. I have seen this coming over the last fifteen years on frequent visits to Russia and the Ukraine, as well as here. Golden or blue cupolas, gold decorations, colourful frescoes, but empty churches. No pastors, and so no parishes, just priests carrying out rituals.

Q: When did the situation for ROCOR change?

A: I think the turning-point here came in 2018. That was the beginning of the end. The leader of ROCOR, the meek and weak Metr Hilarion, became prey to dementia and cancer. Others around him, lacking the traditional Orthodox Christian spirit, read and signed his letters in his place and he had no idea what was going on behind his back.

Q: And in the MP?

A: In the MP the weight of careerists hit a tipping-point around the same time too, in about 2018, having, just like ROCOR, also failed to drain its swamp. The results: lack of prayer, the refusal to take the sacraments, churches like railway stations with people going in and coming out, the lack of any parish communities, the need for paid choirs (or else there will be no-one to sing) and no sense of belonging. Superficiality and folklore, passed down from great-grandparents. Money, money, money. No wonder so many Russian Orthodox have become Protestants, especially in the Ukraine and in the West. In the Ukraine it is said that up to 18% are Evangelicals. Outside San Francisco there is a huge Russian Protestant/Pentecostal church. In London, UK, too.

All of this is the result of almost total pastoral failure, which has brought with it the persecution of the pastors who do exist. There are clergy, whether MP or ROCOR, who are clergy simply because it is a career and they would fail or have failed in a secular career. The careerists are notable for their ‘Popeness’, their narcissism and total lack of love. They are heartless. Some of them are not even believers, let alone were pious laypeople before ordination.

Now they are paying the price. How did they think they could ever get away with it? The only solution is repentance. Because otherwise: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’ (Rom. 12: 19). And that vengeance is terrible, as we can already see in the Ukraine and it is not finished yet. Once you cut yourself off from God and commit blasphemy, like these careerists have, you have no more spiritual protection from the demons.

Q: How do you feel about having left the Russian Church after nearly 50 years?

A: I think we all feel the same – we feel a huge sense of relief. We got off the Titanic eight days before it hit the Ukrainian iceberg. We left a nightmare, which has become far worse since last February. We got out just in time and feel sorry for those who did not leave then. We were on the last flight out of Kabul. That was Divine Providence for us. But we still hope that good can come out of evil. We await the great cleansing of the Russian Church and so its re-formation, reconfiguration and restructuring. The old is completely compromised; they decided to follow the money instead of following the saints. The Russian Church has to return to being a Church of the Saints, of the New Martyrs. Otherwise it has no reason to exist, except as a money-making business organisation, if you consider that that is  a reason to exist.

Today, more and more are coming to us, refugees from the Russian Church, Russians and Ukrainians, who put Christ above their passports. They are all disgusted with what is happening there. So we have become an oasis for the refugees from the very real shipwreck that is the Russian Church today.