Dedicated to Protopresbyter Alexij Kniazeff, Rector of Saint Sergius, Who Knew and Loved and Wanted to Return to the Russian Church
A small group of financially well-off Orthodox, mainly from four Western European countries and centred around their quite small church on Rue Daru in Paris (a church which they did not build and which does not belong to them), their leaders mostly of aristocratic Russian descent, is in crisis. Why? Because after nearly 90 years the Turkish-based Patriarchate of Constantinople no longer wants to keep them as a separate entity within itself, but to absorb them into its local Greek dioceses. There should not really be a crisis because, logically, the group should simply obey their Patriarch: indeed, many would say that the group should have been assimilated after the last Russian-born archbishop died in 1981 and the Greeks have been very patient. Yet, crisis there is. Why?
The essence of the Rue Daru problem is that this unstable group has never accepted any episcopal authority. This is why it left both parts of the Russian Church (inside and outside Russia), both on two occasions, so four times in all, (though claiming to be ‘of the Russian tradition’!!). This is why it refused to obey its first Metropolitan, Eulogius, in 1945 and, unlike him, return to the Russian Church and why, much more recently, it refused to obey its Archbishop Job, sent to it by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, effectively ejecting him. For nearly 90 years the group has been under no Synodal episcopal authority and has been allowed to develop its own fantasies as much as it wanted. Many of its parishes for many decades never saw a bishop even once. And they did not wish to.
Its original leaders, Westernized aristocrats and intellectuals, active in Saint Petersburg before the Revolution, always admired Protestantism. They developed a philosophy of Orthodoxy as a set of ideas, a liberal-bourgeois freethinking ideology, not as a way of life. This why the group has always been anti-episcopal, anti-monastic and congregational. This is why its senior laypeople have always controlled their bishops, electing weak personalities or academics (‘eveques de bibliotheque’) to the episcopate, and, whenever their bishops did want to control them, the laypeople disobeyed them. This is why it developed a heresy called Sophianism, some very bizarre liturgical practices, and many of its senior members were freemasons and some worked for the French Spy services.
The Rue Daru philosophers developed a Protestant-style ideology called ‘eucharistic ecclesiology’ in order to justify their actions. Controlling the Church media and printing presses, with the help of Catholicism (SOP) and Protestantism (YMCA), they propagandized this fantasy. However, in its weakness, until recently, the Patriarchate of Constantinople had left the group to its own fate and never tried to impose episcopal authority on it. Finally, it had enough of the rebels and in November 2018 it dissolved the group, which is now reduced to having a single 75-year old ex-Catholic (exactly like its previous archbishop) for archbishop. Such is the inevitable result of 90 years of anti-episcopalianism and anti-monasticism – it is unable to produce any bishops of its own.
Anti-episcopal, it has never wanted or been able to run its affairs on Synodal (Synod = a group of bishops) lines, like every other Local Orthodox Church always has. It has always been run by a group of power-keeping laypeople, often intermarried, working like a mafia. Any who did not belong to them (for example because they were born in Russia or Moldova, or came from a modest background or, above all, because they followed the Orthodox Tradition) had no say. As a result of its basically racist and class-based exclusivism, over the decades many parishes, clergy and people left it, including for instance the present Metropolitan Athenagoras, a Non-Russian, in Belgium. Thus, the group became ever and ever smaller, almost incestuous, more and more inward-looking and intolerant.
Since last November, more parishes have left the Rue Daru group to join canonical Local Churches. Next month, nearly a year late, the hesitant remnants of the group are to hold a much-delayed meeting to decide what finally they are going to do. The most likely outcome is that perhaps 50% of the group, including the Archbishop, several senior clergy of Russian origin and many Russian-founded parishes in France, will return to the Russian Orthodox Church. However, some 50% on the fringes of the group, who have no idea what the Russian Tradition is, may join various small Local Churches, Constantinople and Antioch (suitable for many of the tiny and elderly ex-Anglican communities in England) and some may simply join sects or set up their own modernist sect.
It is in any case the end of the road for the group and an object-lesson in what happens when you navel-gaze, proudly imagining that you are the centre of the world and, however obviously absurd it is to everyone outside the group, that you are the only true Orthodox. The Orthodox world is much bigger than the tiny minds of liberal bourgeois Parisians. For the Church is not a sect, as it is One, part of the whole; the Church makes saints, not philosophers, as it is Holy; the Church is Catholic, not a Parisian sect, as it operates everywhere and throughout history; the Church is apostolic, as it accepts the authority of bishops, the successors of the apostles. Show Christian humility by accepting the reality of episcopal and apostolic authority or else disappear. It really is as simple as that.