The Russian Orthodox Church exists in two separate administrations in Western Europe. Although both have the same Patriarch in Moscow, one is directly dependent on Moscow, the other only indirectly on him, as it is primarily dependent on a Metropolitan in New York. The Moscow group numbers some 210 parishes in several dioceses, the New York group some 70 parishes in three dioceses, one third of that under Moscow, though in some local regions it is still a majority. On the other hand Moscow has more or less complete control in Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
As we slowly move towards future administrative unity in a single Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Europe (ROME), all over Western Europe a choice will have to be made: Which administration do parishes wish to belong to? In other words, ultimately, which group is to be absorbed by the other? And will that absorption take place all over Western Europe, or only in some areas? This is not a simple matter because this implies that each administration is going to have to answer for the very saddening errors of the past. And there were many of these and their consequences have been postponed for a generation and more.
These include political and moral compromises, which, even if forgiven, are not forgotten, incompetence in failing to build up infrastructure, obtaining and building churches and encouraging and training local clergy, refusal to look after local people and locally-born children and grandchildren and general lack of pastoral and missionary effort. Refusal to take responsibility and ask for forgiveness with repentance will be dismissed. Childish phrases like ‘We’re right because we’re bigger than you…’, or ‘We were here first’, or ‘We’ve got more money than you’, do not wash with people made distrustful by past sins and errors.
The people, and ultimately the clergy with them, will not choose a cold manager or bureaucrat, but the pastoral bishop who shows genuine love for them and does not neglect, ignore and insult them. However, the lack of love of the past is about to receive its just rewards. The people will choose genuine communities. Parishes where people know one another and to which people feel a sense of belonging will win the day. People will not choose parishes which they pass through like railway stations, which are money-making machines, or are centres of cold and formal ritualism in foreign and unknown languages.
There is a moment of danger here, for Western Europe is already littered with the wreckage of small ex-Russian Orthodox communities, alienated by the heavy-handedness of both administrations. These include the tiny marginal communities of the ‘Paris Jurisdiction’ on the one hand, which on paper are canonical, as well as the tiny fringe communities of various ‘Pure’ or ’True’ sectarian jurisdictions, which even on paper are not canonical. For those who suffered under both administrations and never received an apology, we leave the choice to Divine guidance. The chickens come home to roost; the sins of the fathers have a price.
In 2003 the Paris Jurisdiction, then under Archbishop Sergiy, was negotiating its return to the Russian Orthodox Church. It would have become the local element in hopes for a future Russian Orthodox Metropolia of Western Europe, the foundation of a new Local Orthodox Church. It was not to be. Archbishop Sergiy died, and his successors took a virulent anti-Russian line. Now it is on the way to becoming a deanery of the Greek Orthodox Church in Paris. However, together with the 70 parishes established in Western Europe for up to 100 years, Moscow can still establish a joint Metropolia. This can heal both past injustices and avoid future injustices.