The Roads Not Taken

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Four roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one least travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

With Apologies to Robert Frost

Introduction: Four Roads

Reflecting over the last twenty five years of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), we can in hindsight see clearly the four roads that the Church faced then and how the Church, in Her faithful bishops, clergy and people inspired by the Holy Spirit, came to reject three of the roads and take the fourth road, a road that time has proved to be profoundly right. Here we should not forget that it is only seven years ago, at the historic Fourth All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco in 2006 that the Church definitively chose this road under the saintly leadership of the Ever-Memorable Metropolitan Laurus. What were these three roads that the Church did not take and the road we did take?

1. The Sect

Sometimes to do nothing is actually right. However, when there is clear and radical change, for example the world-changing event of the collapse of the Soviet Union, to continue as before would have been absurd. To do nothing, not to react, the choice of passivity, would soon have become the choice of passivism and so the path of the sect and the nationalist ghetto. This became clear during the 1990s when Metropolitan Vitaly, already affected by Alzheimer’s, heavy medication and a sectarian and nationalistic entourage, accepted into the Church Outside Russia little groups inside Russia, and this to the horror of educated ROCOR clergy and laity. This act, which seemed quite uncanonical even then, proved to be disastrous in establishing tiny sectarian groups, sometimes led by rightly defrocked clergy.

Similarly, at that time an infamous and incredible decree was issued in the Metropolitan’s name, using, or rather abusing, his signature. This decree forbade the use of English, including in parishes where there was not a Russian in sight! That this was the path of the sect and the nationalist ghetto was clear to the vast majority then and the decree was quietly but universally ignored. Moreover, that this was the path of the sect and the nationalist ghetto has been further borne out even more by all those tiny and mostly elderly groups, already dying out, often consisting of ungrounded neophytes, quite uneducated individuals or else CIA operatives, with peculiar names and even more peculiar theology, which left the Church Outside Russia between 2001 and 2007.

2. Go Under Moscow

Given that ROCOR was clearly part of the whole Russian Orthodox Church, which clearly had grace and sacramental life, a few considered submitting to the authority of Moscow and actually abolishing ROCOR. This would have been a huge mistake for a number of reasons. Firstly, there was the fact that the Church had been founded by St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, who as a former Bishop of San Francisco, well understood the need for a politically independent Church outside Russia. Thus, self-abolition would have been contrary to the wishes of this saint. Secondly, many of the parishes under the Patriarchate of Moscow outside Russia were scandalous. Many of their clergy were uncanonical or else had been defrocked by ROCOR and then reinstated by Moscow (the OCA used to do the same).

Thus, several of their bishops, especially in Europe) had morally scandalous lives (Archbishop Basil Krivoshein stands out as an exception). Paris and London are well known and most know the almost burlesque story of the former priest of the Australian Diocese of ROCOR, defrocked on any number of accounts, not least of which was adultery, who was welcomed into the arms of Moscow and ended up as ‘Metropolitan of Vienna’ and a proven KGB agent! But thirdly, it would have been a terrible error to lose the unique, multinational Church Outside Russia with its pastoral experience and linguistic abilities, which is now proving itself in teaching Patriarchal churches how to live in a multicultural and globalised world, while retaining the best, pre-Revolutionary Orthodox traditions.

3. Go Native

A ‘third way’ or radical alternative would have been to divorce altogether from the Mother Church, to renounce the Russian Church, despite all our history and canonicity as an integral if politically separate part of the Church, and go native. Thus in Western Europe there would have been founded a ‘European Orthodox Church’, in the USA an ‘American Orthodox Church’ and in Australia an ‘Australian Orthodox Church’. The justification for such an out of character and quite uncanonical operation would have been that as the flock was losing Russian as a native language, it was time to use instead the native languages of the countries wherever the Church existed, flying in the face of real pastoral needs and realities, let alone the canons of the Church.

Apart from a few recent converts, most were not at all attracted by this concept, since it would have destroyed the multinational unity of the Church out of phyletism and would also have led to the sect and the nationalist ghetto. Unlike in the first road, this sect would have been liberal and the nationalism would have been European, American and Australian, but still it would have been a sect and a nationalist ghetto. After all, the OCA, Paris and convert parts of the Antiochian Diaspora had already taken this erroneous road and proved this point. Furthermore, a new Local Church can only be created through blood, tears and sweat, monasticism and martyrdom, not through the superficial inanities of modernism, which is but a passing fashion without a future in the real, post-modernist world.

Conclusion: The Fourth Road

In reality none of these three choices attracted more than a few. In reality, the way of the Church, the fourth road, prevailed. This was to recognise the repentance of the hierarchs of the Church inside Russia, so wonderfully expressed in their August 2000 Jubilee Council and then gradually implemented. This was after all what the faithful monastics, clergy and people of the Church inside Russia, the real judges of the situation, had recognised. Once this had been done, it would be possible to negotiate and reunite the two parts of the Church, becoming a universally canonically recognised autonomous Metropolia of the whole Church. Thus, we would have our future and continue our unique multicultural and multilingual mission worldwide, in faithfulness to the Russian Orthodox Tradition.