The two Russian émigré Church groupings that took shape in the 1920s in order to be independent of the by then Soviet-controlled Moscow Patriarchate were only ever meant to be temporary formations. Time and time again the leaders of both proclaimed that they would return to the Mother-Church inside Russia as soon as the Soviet Union had fallen. As we know, even though the USSR fell in 1991, it took many years after this before they eventually did reunite, in 2007 and 2018, but both for the same reason – that they could not canonically survive and function normally, if cut off from the far larger Mother-Church, centred in Moscow.
Unity Against Extremes
We in Western Europe, frightened especially of strange political and sectarian trends coming from the US since the 1960s, very much wanted to see both Russian émigré groupings reintegrate the Russian Church and canonical norms. And we also wanted to give them back their real missionary purpose. This was the purpose defined by, among others, St John of Shanghai and Western Europe, that of witnessing to and spreading Orthodoxy worldwide, helping to form new Local Churches, while still remaining faithful to the Orthodox Tradition. In other words, both groups had to avoid two temptations or extremes. The first was that of being a closed inward-looking, exclusivist and so sectarian ghetto, which would inevitably die out, as do all ghettoes and sects. The second was that of assimilating completely or else basically becoming an Eastern-rite Protestantism or Eastern-rite Catholicism, or in any case being absorbed by the local dominant culture and also dying out.
The small Paris group, where we have family and close friends, and which reunited with the Mother-Church only in 2018, lost over 40% of its strength in so doing, for the secularising, assimilationist party mostly left it. That was in fact a cleansing. It meant that the group could go on with its mission to help build up a Local Church in parts of Western Europe, but faithfully following the Russian Tradition, while remaining independent of Russian internal politics. In other words, it wished to become a European OCA (Orthodox Church in America). With three bishops at present, it hopes to consecrate another three bishops. However, it remains a Paris-centric Church and its presence in the British Isles, as in many other parts of Western Europe, is very small and very weak. Nevertheless, it has made and will continue to make an important contribution to a future Local Church in Western Europe, into which it will eventually merge.
The larger, though still small New York-based group, with twelve bishops, took another line. Unable to be an ethnic ghetto because of assimilation and the loss of Russian, it chose to become an ideological ghetto. In 2021 it duly cut itself off from the Paris group in a schism, even though both were supposed to be united in One Church. The New York group had seen most of its original Russian emigres and their descendants die out or be assimilated into secular culture despite – or perhaps because of – CIA funding. Thus, it had become almost wholly reliant either on parishioners from the former Soviet Union or else on poorly integrated and puritanical converts seeking their ideal of an exclusivist fundamentalist ‘One True Church’ sect. They knew nothing of the real Russia and real Russian Orthodoxy, but only a Disneyfied, made in the USA, fantasy version. It was this second and highly politicised convert ethos that came to dominate the New York group.
In order to assert its control elsewhere and ensure its power fantasy of ‘another century of existence’, New York decided to ‘retire’ the old school of bishops and clergy. It would send out cultish new bishops to intimidate and close down opponents and financially exploit the peripheries of its group in Australia and Western Europe. Ass imperialists they would force those peripheries into the unipolar, ultra-conservative, New York convert mould, even ‘correcting’ their language for Americanese! This would mean their group becoming ever smaller and narrower and more isolated, creating schisms with other Orthodox, cutting itself off from mainstream Orthodox, from the majority. Parishes in insular Australia were already largely Americanised, but Western European parishes, with their tradition handed down from St John of Shanghai and Western Europe, were not. Geographically next door to Russia, Russian Orthodox in Western Europe know the real Russia and Russian Orthodox culture. They could have nothing to do with the fantasy version, cultivated on the American island far away.
Thus, Western European dioceses would have to be repressed and basically destroyed to fit the new and loveless, unipolar ideology of the US imperialist mould with its power-seeking and money-making ethos. The American crazy convert mentality of ‘money, money, money’, podcasts for ‘incels’ and ‘orthobros’, with punishing homosexuals or misogynists a la Andrew Tate, was alien to Orthodox in Europe. Harsh and jealous right-wing Americans and Americanised extremists, with their politicking, Vlasovite, CIA-funded Possevs, Radio Liberties and Voices of America, would never be acceptable to genuine Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe. Thus, the New York group with its aggressive Americanisation and bullying schismatic sectarianism signed its own death-warrant in Europe. A censorious and sectarian Russian old calendarism had no attraction for normal Orthodox Christians, whether for the converted, or for Russians. Isolationism and hate-filled sectarianism repelled.
Therefore, most ex-Soviet parishioners did not feel at home in the New York group in Western Europe and would have preferred to attend Patriarchal churches, linked with their homeland, had they been available. Talking to the Orthodox bishops with whom I had studied at seminary or whom I had known when they were young priests, the reaction to the Americanisation or ‘convertisation’ of the old European ROCOR was universally the same: amazement and sadness at the destruction of a genuine spiritual, ascetic and liturgical heritage and its slandering by know-nothing neophytes without monastic experience. However, looking at the schismatic and sectarian mentality responsible, the whole thing then began to appear laughable. The reaction confirmed just how bad the New York group’s reputation had become in recent years. ‘Oh, that uncanonical sect’, was the typical dismissive reaction among clergy of other Local Churches.
The Coming Collapse
Once the divisive conflict in the Ukraine is over and the Patriarchal Russian Church returns to its freedom and so destiny, the fate of the New York group will be decided. In Western Europe, it has no future. It is out of communion with the mainstream. Its remnants will flee its uncanonical extremism and be absorbed into the dioceses of canonical Local Churches, especially of Moscow, which will by then be free to receive them. That is, once Moscow has freed itself from the effects of the divisive and all-absorbing conflict in the Ukraine, when it can begin decentralisation through a sweeping programme of autocephalisation and autonomisation, eliminating oligarchic corruption and the gay mafia.
Thus, outside Western Europe and Africa, in Australia there will surely develop a separate Metropolia (especially if Australia and New Zealand come out of their US-imposed political control and isolationism and join the BRICS political and economic bloc), as also will Latin America. In Northern America (the USA and Canada) the New York group will slowly integrate the future Local Church, founded by the great St Tikhon, whose life-giving presence is still in the OCA, which will be redefined. Surely it will be joined by the 40 or so Moscow parishes, still for the moment outside it, and perhaps be renamed.
After the conflict in the Ukraine is over, now providentially to be hastened by Prigozhin’s treacherous mutiny, and with the removal of certain divisive traitors in the Church, the unity of the at present very divided Orthodox Family must be restored. This will have to be through an authentic Orthodox Council unifying the totality of the Local Churches, in which Catholicity and Conciliarity alone reside. Worldwide, this will mean radical changes to both leading Patriarchates, Constantinople and Moscow. Only the reaffirmation of the Catholicity of the whole Orthodox Church can deliver us from a narrow, centralised, political and ethnic model of Church life. This has already happened so many times in our two thousand-year history. Only a real Council can lead to canonical Orthodox unity everywhere, not least in the Diaspora of Western Europe, the Americas and Oceania.