The Russian Orthodox Church and the Tragedy of Soviet Centralisation

Introduction: Soviet Centralisation in Kiev = The End of the Ukraine

I was recently asked a strange question: Do you think that the Ukraine has a right to exist? To which I answered: Obviously, yes! The Ukraine is for Ukrainians! And that is precisely the problem, the Ukraine is for Ukrainians, not for Non-Ukrainians. I believe in self-determination. What the Soviet-style Kiev government did not have the right to do is to ban and oppress the languages and cultures of others and even ‘ethnically cleanse’ the non-Ukrainian minorities. Sadly, that is what has been going on since 1945, starting in what Kiev still calls ‘Transcarpathia’, even though it is Kiev which is Transcarpathian. And in the last three decades that were supposedly ‘post-Soviet’ the centralising Soviet-style oppression has got worse everywhere.

Clearly, the independent Ukraine after 1991 either had to become a loose Confederation, as suggested by the leaders of Germany at the time, or else it had to change its unnatural borders, returning to its pre-1922 borders, returning land to Russia, Poland, Hungary and Romania. Instead, it rejected both options, rejecting democratic referenda, remaining a centralised Soviet State. So now it is being forced to return to its natural borders by the drama of military action and appalling bloodshed. Therein lies its horrible tragedy, all so avoidable, the tragedy of all those who have not thrown off the atheist Soviet heritage with its disregard, plain lack of love, for others. It is all so typically Soviet: close the churches and padlock their doors, so people cannot go to them. ‘Hate your neighbour’ is our slogan.

Soviet Centralisation in Moscow = Autocephaly in the Ukraine

In the Russian Church, unlike in other Local Churches, there is a tradition of praying for not just the diocesan bishop, but also for the Patriarch. If you are in the Russian Church, you should do this. However, over the decades, there have been inside and outside Russia, numbers of bishops and priests who have refused to do this. Thus, after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Church in the Polish part of the former Empire received autocephaly and the parishes in Finland left for Constantinople. This was also in order to avoid praying for a Patriarch who was under the orders of atheists.

Then, for over 80 years, bishops and priests in the émigré Church, ROCOR, refused to commemorate the head of the Russian Church because they considered that the Metropolitans and Patriarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate were slaves or hostages of the atheist Communists who were persecuting the Church, and therefore they were not Orthodox. Indeed, if they had commemorated the Russian Patriarch, the people would have walked out, so not to pray for him publicly was a pastoral necessity. And in the neophyte 1990s there were protesters inside Russia who also refused to commemorate their Patriarch. These non-commemorators justified themselves as they considered that the Patriarch was an ecumenist and so was not Orthodox.

Today, in the Ukraine clergy have stopped commemorating Patriarch Kyrill for the same reason as ROCOR, because they do not consider him to be Orthodox and therefore, at the mention of his name in churches, the people walk out or else they refuse to go to church anyway. Rightly or wrongly, they consider him to be the slave of the post-Soviet State, a politician and not a churchman. As a result, the canonical Ukrainian Church has had to declare itself ‘fully independent’. It had no choice. The decision was forced on it by the people. Far more importantly than this, however, is the fact that when the conflict in the Ukraine is over, and whatever the outcome, there will be an independent/Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It will not return to centralised, Soviet-style Moscow. Moscow is still in denial about this, but this will not change the reality. Indeed, arguably, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church should have been given Autocephaly decades ago.

Soviet Centralisation = Autocephaly Elsewhere

I have always been opposed to ‘Autocephalitis’, the idea that all problems can be solved by the granting of autocephaly to groups of Orthodox, however small, in any country in the world. Autocephaly can only be justified, when there are sufficient numbers of Orthodox with spiritual maturity in any particular location. However, after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1991 and the formation of many new independent states, it should have been clear that new independent (Autonomous or Autocephalous) Churches would have to follow. Probably the time for partial independence (Autonomy) is over – it is already too late. Full independence, Autocephaly, is now on the cards for virtually the whole Russian Orthodox world outside the Russian Federation and the Russian Orthodox Exarchate in Belarus. Autocephaly means precisely that His Holiness Kyrill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, will no longer be commemorated at services.

True, it is too early for Autocephaly in the new and small Russian Orthodox Exarchates in South-East Asia and Africa, but Autonomy will have to be envisaged for both within the next ten years and then Autocephaly. Elsewhere, it is full steam ahead. The Latvian Orthodox Church has already taken the chance of Autocephaly, with the excuse of pressure from the Latvian government. However, as it has only three bishops, perhaps, as we have suggested, a single Baltic Orthodox Church (grouping all Orthodox in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, together with all Orthodox in Finland who use the canonical date for Pascha). This would solve the problems and schismatic pressures in Lithuania and in Estonia, and provide at least six bishops. (For Autocephaly, four bishops are a minimum). How long before governments in other countries also impose Autocephaly on local Russian Orthodox? 20% of Moldovan parishes have already gone to the Romanian Church. Moldova is certainly large enough to become an Autocephalous Church, indeed it would become one of the larger Local Churches.

Apart from the Baltics and Moldova, there is also considerable dissidence among multinational Russian Orthodox in Western Europe, in the Russian Orthodox Exarchate in Western Europe of the MP (potentially eight or more bishops), the Western European Archdiocese of the MP (three bishops) and in Western European ROCOR (Autocephaly impossible with its four present bishops, but clergy and people are already voting with their feet), from which many have walked out. Autocephaly in Western Europe could be envisaged, providing it was done with the co-operation of the other Local Churches, and not done, schismatically, against them. Since parts of the New York-run ROCOR have gone into schism, with the Moscow Patriarchate itself! (the Western European Archdiocese) and with the treacherous backing of politicians in the Moscow Patriarchate in Moscow!, there is no hope of this happening on the part of ROCOR. The latter has walled itself off in a schismatic bout of ‘OneTrueChurchism’, which is very American and highly political. But others are free to pursue the path of a new Local Church of Western Europe and clearly some want to.

Soviet Centralisation = Crisis

Interestingly, when Japan started a war against Russia in 1904 with a treacherous and unprovoked attack against Russia (not Russia against Japan), the Russian Bishop of Tokyo told his parishes to pray for the Japanese Emperor, the authorities and the Japanese armed forces. He locked himself away for the duration of the war. It seems to me that he, a future saint, set an example and the same should apply now. In any case, the fact is that Ukrainians consider that they cannot pray publicly for Patriarch Kyrill and the people refuse to attend churches where his name is commemorated. They see him as a politician, not a churchman.

If England were under military attack from Russia, whatever the reason, I don’t see that anyone in this country would wish to hear public prayers for Patriarch Kyrill. Either the Russian Church here would declare itself Autocephalous (as happened with the canonical Church under Metr Onuphry in the Ukraine), or else the State would declare it Autocephalous (as happened in Latvia), or else everyone would join another Local Church. Indeed, many people were forced to take the latter course by the Moscow Patriarchate itself in this country even before the war, because of the schismatic actions of some in the Russian Church, whose political support Moscow needed, even though the actions Moscow was supporting were schismatic.

In other words, nearly one third of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Non-Russian part, is in crisis. Interestingly, this ‘independence movement’ inside the Russian Church has brought no benefit to the ‘Churches’ which the US-manipulated Patriarchate of Constantinople set up in Estonia a generation ago and in 2019 in the west of the Ukraine. Most of their church buildings, stolen by violent thugs from the canonical Church, stand empty and padlocked. People know they are fake and refuse to go there. It must be depressing to be inside the Russian Church in Western Europe today. All the more so, as most ‘Russians’ here do not come from Russia itself, but are Russian-speakers from the Baltics, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus and, especially, from the Ukraine.

Conclusion: New Jerusalem and All Rus

In the light of the conflict in the Ukraine, what can be said about the concept of ‘Holy Rus’? This conflict is between the largest of the supposedly Orthodox peoples of ‘Holy Rus’. Clearly, the majority are not Orthodox and indeed have not been since 1917. Today the majority still acts in the old Soviet way, with its atheistic mentality. For a long time now it has been our suggestion that the Moscow Patriarchate, a name that reminds many of the old Soviet heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church, be renamed ‘The Patriarchate of New Jerusalem and All Rus’. Physically, it could quit Moscow and establish itself in the now renewed New Jerusalem Monastery by the River Istra (Jordan) nearby, and so justify that new name and new reality.

Whatever the present tragedy in the Ukraine, the Trinitarian ideal of ‘Holy Rus’ of Unity in Diversity, remains. As to whether it will be incarnated before the end of the world, we do not know, for we do not know when the world will end. It depends on mass repentance, which has been absent since 1917. Thank God, we have been released from the post-Soviet Church, in both its Russian Federation and its American political incarnations, and are able to go on in freedom to help build up the future multinational Local Church with the free Local Orthodox Churches. These are neither American, nor post-Soviet, neither CIA, nor FSB, and so, by the grace of God, can remain outside the geopolitical games of the Superpowers, as can we.