The Tragedy of the Russian Emigration: The Land of Lost Opportunity

Since the reunion or reconciliation of the Russian emigration and the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) in recent years, many voices, both in Russia and also abroad, have asked: ‘Why continue a separate existence? Since the fall of the USSR, the 100-year old Russian emigration has no more reason to exist separately, it is an anachronism, it should fully integrate the MP’. The answers given by Russian emigration bishops said: ‘But we are distinctive. They wear black vestments during Lent, we wear violet; they wear red vestments for Easter, we wear white; after our bishops wash their hands before the Great Entrance, they shake the drops of water onto the people, MP bishops do not’. Other self-justifying and equally minor ritual variations were also quoted, most of the emigration variations wrong anyway! Some readers may think we are inventing these absurd justifications for separation. We are not. We can quote times, places and names.

We always took another line. That the Russian emigration could and should continue its distinctive traditions. Not the ritual ones, but the real ones:

  1. Instead of behaving like pre-Revolutionary (carriages with black horses) Soviet (luxury black Chayka and Zil cars) and post-Soviet (black Mercedes or SUVs) bishops and living in palaces in the lap of luxury, all emigration bishops could have continued to live humbly and modestly like the émigré bishops who had dominated the Russian emigration until about the Year 2000 when they died out, their model being St John of Shanghai. Instead: Often a purely voluntary imitation of the worst Soviet-style examples.
  2. Instead of having churches like railway stations, people going in and out just to light candles, giving the impression that few are praying, the Russian emigration could have continued as it used until about 2000, with real parishes, parishes as communities, where people knew one another and helped one another. Instead: Generally, an imitation in order to take more money for effeminate luxury and gain more power and impunity.
  3. Instead of doing whatever the post-Soviet State told it to do, the Russian emigration could have continued with politically independent views on issues such as the martyred Tsar and those close to him, the two 1917 Revolutions, the New Martyrs, the Soviet Union and, more recently, the Ukraine. Instead: Generally, political dependence, sounding brass and lack of Love.
  4. Instead of pursuing a policy of Russian nationalism, the Russian emigration could have continued with its old internationalism and multilingualism, actively helping to create and contribute to new Local Churches in all the Diasporas where it used to operate and so opening new parishes, boldly defying the MP wherever there were issues of principle. Instead: Fear and trembling.

As self-governing, virtually autocephalous parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian emigration was in an excellent position to be independent. It could have used that independence fearlessly to co-operate with other Local Churches, not least in Northern America with the Russian-founded OCA, and to help set up new Local Churches elsewhere. They chose not to and rather to be frightened of Soviet-style reflexes, punitive effeminacy, and protocols of bureaucracy of the worst parts of the MP and indeed to imitate them! Nobody forced them to do this. One of the reasons for it was that so many people of faith left the Diaspora Church because they feared compromises of the faith. Sadly, they joined schismatic, old calendarist groups.

Their departure created an imbalance, giving an opportunity to careerists, in love with power, money and above all with themselves, to take over. Thus, they chose the suicidal path of being inward-looking, polemical, aggressive, bullying, moralistic, right-wing, sectarian and turning into isolated ghettos, with a love of power and money. Little wonder that most Russians refuse to attend their churches. The result is that the Russian emigration is imploding. New Local Churches will be formed largely without the Russian emigration. The train has left the station. You missed it.