Add more evils upon them, O Lord; add more evils upon them that are glorious upon the earth.
Isaiah, 26, 15 (Septuagint)
In February 1917 the Russian Empire was overthrown. Almost automatically, Georgian Orthodox saw their Church recover its canonical status as the ancient Autocephalous (Independent) Georgian Orthodox Church, of which they had so long been deprived by Russian Imperialist politics. As well as this, certain Non-Russian territories of the former Russian Empire were ceded and became permanently independent parts of the new States of Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the ecclesiastical sphere, eventually two completely new Autocephalous Churches were formed out of the old Russian Imperial Church, the Church of Poland and the Church of Czechia and Slovakia, in which countries there were and still are considerable numbers of Orthodox.
As for the few mainly very Lutheranised Orthodox in newly-independent Finland, after 1917 they formed a group of parishes, which chose to be under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as indeed they still are. As well as this, all of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and territories that belonged to western Belarus, the far west of the Ukraine and the Romanian-speaking area known as Moldova or Bessarabia were ceded. However, all of these were forcibly returned to the USSR as a result of Soviet occupation and then liberation from Nazism between 1939 and 1945, in what was a de facto partial reconstitution of the old Empire by the imperialist Stalin.
Between 1917 and 1945 the Orthodox in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Moldova had encountered various difficulties and political and ecclesiastical changes involving the Patriarchate of Constantinople or, in Moldova, the Patriarchate of Romania. However, by the end of the Second World War their territories all ended up as parts of the USSR, the successor to the Russian Empire, and ecclesiastically were once again put under the Russian Orthodox Church.
Almost exactly seventy-five years later, at the end of 1991, the multinational but highly centralised USSR split into fifteen independent republics. However, only two Local Orthodox Churches existed in those fifteen new countries: the Russian and the Georgian. Thus, the former still had jurisdiction in thirteen different countries outside the new Russian Federation, where there lived millions of Russians but also representatives of other nationalities who were also Orthodox.
It is our view that the Russian Church should have followed the political decentralisation granted by political Moscow to the new countries. Thus, ecclesiastical Moscow should have granted ecclesiastical independence to the Orthodox in those new countries, as indeed some senior Russian figures said at the time. We believe that in this way five new Autocephalous Churches would have been carved out of the Russian Church. These would have been the Ukrainian, the Belarussian, the Moldovan, the Central Asian (covering the five countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and the Baltic (covering the three countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia). (As so few Orthodox lived in the last two new independent countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, there was only a need there for a few dependency churches under Russia or Georgia).
If this had been done, there would no longer have been one single multinational Russian Orthodox Church, but a new family of seven Sister-Churches: the Russian (by far the largest), the Ukrainian, the Belarussian, the Moldovan, the Central Asian, the Baltic (and the already existing Northern American, called the OCA). These would have come on top of the already existing two Autonomous Churches of Japan and China, later joined by the three much more recent Russian Exarchates in Western Europe, South-East Asia and Africa, perhaps already granted Autonomy. Thus, there would today have been formed a family of Seven Autocephalous and Five future Autocephalous Churches, Twelve Churches in all.
Instead, we have seen what was once a multinational Russian Church increasingly becoming a national and indeed nationalist Church. Russian flags, unheard of before, are more and more often to be found inside Russian churches. For example, in 2020 a huge new Orthodox Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces was opened in Patriot Park outside Moscow, alongside the aviation museum of the Kubinka air base and a tank museum. This Cathedral can only be called nationalist in its design, which some have called ‘Stalinist baroque’ and even ‘sinister’, and some of its militarist frescoes involving the Red Army are highly controversial and for many very shocking. However, apparently all this is fully acceptable to the once independently-minded, émigré-founded Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).
Worse still, on 15 August this year, the most recent of ten new monuments and statues of Stalin was unveiled in the city of Velikie Luki near Pskov. This was blessed by priests, one of whom is alleged to have declared that Stalin was great ‘because he had created so many martyrs’. The priests who did this have been rebuked for not having a blessing from their bishop to do so (only because of this?). However, what is even more worrying is that men with such values could have been ordained to the priesthood in the first place. They compare very badly to that pious Ukrainian priest in Moscow who was recently, quite uncanonically and shockingly, ‘defrocked’ for refusing to pray for Russian victory in the Special Military Operation in the Ukraine and instead of that praying for peace. We had thought that all should pray for peace, leaving the rest to God.
It seems as though the whole Russian Church has today been reduced to nationalist politics and centralised ‘protocols’, rules and regulations. We can only imagine the protests that would now be flooding in from the senior bishops of the old Moscow Patriarchate, like Metropolitan Antony Bloom in London or Archbishop Basil Krivoshein in Brussels. They must be spinning in their graves, seeing the utter rejection of the Gospel values they lived for and wrote about and the total destruction and renunciation of all their efforts to create multinational Orthodox missions. Indeed, after a lifetime of devotion to the Moscow Church, Archbishop Basil’s nephew, Nikita, now writes and acts against Moscow nationalism and its Church. It is hardly surprising.
Far Worse Still
However, all of this is as nothing compared to the Church wars that have been triggered elsewhere outside the Russian Federation since the Russian Patriarch Kyrill endorsed in no uncertain terms the eighteen-month-old Russian Special Military Operation in the Ukraine. Last year he even stated that those Russians fighting against Ukrainians, many of the latter Orthodox, and dying in battle, would go to heaven as martyrs, rather like jihadis. So far, some 400,000 Ukrainian soldiers and at least 40,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in this Operation.
This is exactly the opposite of the example of Bishop (later St) Nicholas of Tokyo. After Japan had treacherously attacked Russia in 1904, Bishop Nicholas ordered his Japanese Orthodox priests to pray for the armed forces of Japan (not at all the same as praying for their victory) and himself retired into seclusion to weep and pray, refusing to take part in any public activities. Surely Patriarch Kyrill, officially Patriarch of both Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox, as well as many other nationalities, should have done the same? Who can rejoice at war?
The result is that most Orthodox in the Ukraine, as well as many in Moldova and Latvia, some in Lithuania, Estonia, Western Europe and North America, and even a few in Belarus and the Russian Federation itself, have left the Russian Church. Orthodox in the Ukraine have declared that they are ‘fully independent’ of Moscow and Orthodox in Latvia have been declared to be autocephalous and both are acting so, not commemorating Patriarch Kyrill. Now, the usual completely unChristian ‘anathemas’ and uncanonical ‘defrockings’ are flying around. (Defrocking takes place for acts against morality, not for acts against immorality, though try telling immoral bishops that…).
Typical is the example of the very aggressive and highly controversial Bishop Markell of Baltsy and Falesht in Moldova who has declared the usual, that anyone who leaves the Moscow Church (in this case, for the Romanian Church) is automatically defrocked and ‘has no grace’. As a result, many more Moldovans are leaving him and the Moscow Church in disgust, and he has lost several churches and properties with their income, which seriously concerns him. As a result, the already isolated Russian Church, already out of communion with the Greek Churches, is on the point of falling out of communion with the Romanian Church too. Where are they going? Insanity appears to have seized them.