Four years ago now we were informed by a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) that Fr Alexander Belya had been selected as a bishop by a majority of the old ROCOR Synod in New York. All had legitimately been signed off and sent to the Moscow for the final approval. Indeed, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) had earlier personally spoken to us about Fr Alexander with great enthusiasm. However, the objections of a minority in the Synod were so strong that they launched what was in effect a coup d’etat, taking advantage of the late Metropolitan Hilarion’s dementia and cancer, creating a new ROCOR and beginning a campaign to discredit Fr Alexander’s candidacy. All manner of accusations were made, for which no proof has ever been offered.
Accusing someone of forgery and then spending two and a half years in the highest courts in the USA trying to avoid having to respond to evidence to the contrary does seem very strange. In any case, after losing its very expensive court cases against Fr Alexander Belya and awaiting the new one for defamation, the new ROCOR has lost yet another battle. It can no longer resist the consecration of Fr Alexander Belya, already signed off by the old ROCOR under Metr Hilarion (Kapral). However, given the purging of the old canonical ROCOR by the dominant new ROCOR, the consecration will go ahead under the very unpopular and highly controversial Archbishop Elpidiphoros of the Church of Constantinople in North America. He has now called the bluff of very naïve, objecting bishops of other jurisdictions in Northern America and will proceed with the long-awaited consecration.
It is a great pity that few can trust Archbishop Elpidiphoros personally, but no doubt there was no other choice for Fr Alexander in the highly politicised American context. And so the vital forces of the Russian Church in Northern America are going under the Church of Constantinople, as the elderly who know the Tradition die out. We can only imagine the dissatisfaction with ROCOR in Moscow. A candidate for the episcopate and yet another set of good clergy and prosperous parishes lost by ROCOR and this time forced, however reluctantly, to join the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Moscow’s great rival. (Where part of the OCA also wants to go). The living elements of the old ROCOR, are fleeing its new marginality, in Northern America quite logically joining the largest jurisdiction there (the Patriarchate of Constantinople) and in Western Europe quite logically joining the largest jurisdiction there (the Patriarchate of Romania). In both cases all keep the old calendar and all other Russian liturgical customs.
All had been possible, but, according to some, on account of jealousy (Fr Alexander speaks and writes fluent Russian and Ukrainian, unlike those who oppose him), slander and sham ‘defrockings’, those who oppose him have lost nearly everything. First there came notoriety for receiving clergy without letters of release from canonical (= non-schismatic) Local Churches. (Letters of release are necessary to check on the moral conduct of clergy, not if the only objections to the clergy leaving are because they refuse schism, because of political disagreements or if they concern coveting of parishioners’ property on the part of those who do not wish them to leave.
The refusal to issue letters of release for purely political purposes or to try and obtain property illegally is not canonical. And there is no such thing as an oath of obedience to a schismatic bishop!). One Russian priest in London called ROCOR’s uncanonical suspensions ‘null and void’. And as another Russian priest said: ‘If there is no canonical crime, then it means that canon law is simply used as a mechanism of political repression’. (https://uk.yahoo.com/news/russian-orthodox-priests-face-persecution-062625884.html).
Thus, the clergy who left Constantinople for ROCOR were suspended by the Church of Constantinople. This is normal practice, as you do not ‘defrock’ clergy, if they are acting in integrity according to their conscience. Unless, that is, you are some sort of punitive, gaslighting, right-wing sect. Why did so many leave the new ROCOR elsewhere? The ROCOR schism from the Moscow Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church (to which ROCOR supposedly belongs!) in Western Europe took its toll. This was because the Moscow group in Western Europe receives Catholic clergy in the same way as the rest of the Moscow Patriarchate and the pre-Revolutionary Russian Church, that is, not by rebaptism, like Greek Old Calendarists. This suicidal act of Russian old calendarism on the part of ROCOR cost it sixteen clergy and half of its Diocese in Great Britain. All refused to obey neophyte schismatics – see Canon XV of the First and Second Council. Now ROCOR in Great Britain will never be anything more than an irrelevant, tiny, closed marginal sect.
Then there was the use of electronic signatures, used in utterly vain attempts to bully, gaslight and intimidate. With these acts many have indeed discredited and isolated themselves from canonical Orthodoxy. How long will Moscow tolerate these losses and scandals? At a time like this, the already very isolated Moscow needs allies, not scandals. It has already suffered scandals in the tragic situations in Kiev, Riga, Amsterdam, Madrid, Vilnius and those that are rapidly developing elsewhere. There will come a point when Moscow, with its many parishes which use the new calendar, simply will not accept the threats made to it by the old calendarist American Synod. These threats involve boycotting the workings of the Moscow Patriarchate and are made by the New York Synod because it believes that it has Moscow over a barrel and can get away with anything. It is a dangerous game, because one day after the Ukraine is over Moscow will call its bluff and pull the plugs.
All this is a result of the ROCOR identity crisis. This began after its formal unity with Moscow in 2007, when it at last found universally recognised canonical status, for which we had battled for so long. However, instead of choosing to use this God-given opportunity to contribute to the positive and mainstream construction of new Local Churches in the Diaspora and show political independence from the secular Russian State, it chose negative and censorious self-isolation in an extreme right-wing ghetto and political co-operation with the secular Russian State. So it lost its Ukrainians – and many other normal families, purged by the alt right, long-bearded crazy converts it is introducing. It means that the only Russian Orthodox input into the inevitable new Local Churches in Northern America and Western Europe will come from the free Russian Orthodox, who belong to other Local Churches. Fringe groups with their extremism such as ROCOR will have no involvement. Just like all old calendarist groups, they have nothing to contribute.
Unless, that is, the few remaining Orthodox in ROCOR can at the last moment take back control of the Church from those who usurped power from the saintly, but very weak Metropolitan Hilarion (+ 2022) during the years of his dementia and cancer. This now seems very unlikely, unless the largely convert mini-Synod which took full control of ROCOR through its internal coup can be ousted. At present the new ROCOR is carrying out a purge of all its senior clergy of the St John tradition, all those who belonged to the old ROCOR and are being replaced by ‘Orthobros’ and incels. Distracted by its loss of the Ukraine, Latvia etc and its desperate search for support in the Diaspora for the Russian State’s political and military battle against the USA in the Ukraine, the Moscow Patriarchate authorities have let things slide in the Diaspora. So badly indeed that the return of ROCOR to canonicity now seems virtually impossible. And that severely compromises Moscow’s own non-ROCOR existence outside Russia only more.
Interestingly, the news of Fr Alexander’s coming consecration was reported by the notoriously biased, American-run but Moscow-based, website ‘orthochristian.com’. This site is well-known for being backed by and publishing the works of very conservative ex-Evangelicals in Northern America. Some have even said that that website has been infiltrated by murky CIA/NATO assets, who started establishing themselves in ROCOR, Vlasovite and Russian-language publishing and broadcasting circles in the Diaspora in the 1960s. In any case that website never prints articles and comments that are critical of the practices of the MP and ROCOR or show up their hypocrisy and disrespect for human rights. It is surely being protected by someone important in the hierarchy in Russia, who knows the emigres well. According to some, he may himself, perhaps by naivety, have been turned and been involved in those murky dealings.
This is possible. After all, we should recall that the US Establishment is now divided between the conservative nationalist patriots of the CIA and the woke cosmopolitan neocons of the Washington State Department. And this situation is strangely very similar to that in the Soviet Union just before its dissolution in 1991. Then that was divided between pro-American liberal Euro-Atlanticists, who overnight transformed themselves from Communists into Capitalist oligarchs, and the patriots/nationalists, centred in the Soviet equivalent to the CIA, which was then called the KGB. And one of the latter was the present Russian nationalist President Putin, at that time a lowly KGB operative in provincial East Germany.
We should not forget that the former US President George Bush Senior (his son was not bright enough) was head of the CIA before himself being elected. Does a parallel between today’s patriotic CIA and the then patriotic KGB exist? Does the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 indicate the coming collapse of the American Empire? We remember how in the 1970s and then the 1980s, the right-wing Washington ROCOR, of which some were CIA assets (once an asset, always an asset, as the late Fr Mikhail Artsimovich commented to me in 1992), was warmly welcomed into the Reagan White House and the coffers of the CIA generously opened to it. Now it is payback time, return on investment. We gave you then, now you will obey us. You cannot escape the murk, once you have joined it, you are signed up for life. You have sold your soul.
What is clear is that the new ROCOR is collapsing. It is not for families. We have often asked ourselves what the righteous people, priests and bishops of the old ROCOR, so many of whom we knew well, would have done. What would the ever-memorable St John of Shanghai and Western Europe, Fr Seraphim (Rose), Archbishop Antony of Geneva (who never defrocked anyone) and Metr Laurus (Shkurla) have done, given the present convert sectarianisation? Their Church has now been taken over by the descendants of those who suspended and put St John on trial in 1964, who persecuted Fr Seraphim in the 1970s and Archbishop Antony in the 1980s and 1990s and ourselves since 2007.
Surely, if they had still been alive in the years following 2007 and saw they risked losing control of the New York Synod to the murky mini-Synod, which had already begun forming as long ago as 2001 after the Metr Vitaly fiasco, they would have closed down the separate Synod in New York. Then, seeing the convert immaturity and uncanonical actions, Moscow would have taken ROCOR under its direct control. Moscow then would surely have proceeded towards the regionalisation and Metropolitanisation of ROCOR, as so many of us and the Patriarch Kyrill of the time had so much wanted, as he told us quite clearly in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow in May 2012.
This would have helped towards founding the coming foundation of the four Diaspora Local Churches, in Western Europe, Northern America, Latin America and Oceania. In this way the New York Synod could never have been diverted from its Christian path by insecure ‘One True Church’ converts and the other psychologically troubled with their murky connections. It is probably too late for this, for the Persecuted Church has become the Persecuting Church and the way back seems impossible. It is too late for any ‘Make ROCOR Great Again’. This is what happens when the spiritual is supplanted by the political and the financial. In history such people were ruled by a Sanhedrin and they were called pharisees.
However, we should not doubt in Divine Providence. The saints came to rescue us from the ROCOR schism and even now they are gathering together with St John of Shanghai. We shall see great changes in the near future, as the Holy Spirit takes over from evil men, their hearts full of hatred. Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!