Of problem areas facing the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia in regions outside Russia, there now remain perhaps four of the original five. The first problem was what to do with the three tiny communities in Australia, still irregularly under the jurisdiction of the Church inside Russia, which had to be canonically unified with the far larger Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Here the solution was simple, to hand over one community that was happy to come to ROCOR and grant temporary stavropegia (peculiar status) to the other two until they and their problems have been absorbed. What then are the other three problem areas that remain?
Problem One is what to do about China, if the Chinese government does after all grant freedom for Non-Western Orthodoxy in China, as we all hope. Here the problem is even greater because it is clear that at the present time, whichever hierarch is responsible for China, he will also have to be responsible for the moment for a further extension to Russian Orthodox canonical territory – in North Korea, Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), Thailand and India. In other words, we are saying that the Russia Church may soon face the question of whom it can appoint as Metropolitan of China and beyond. However, there is perhaps an excellent candidate in Moscow, at present an Archbishop.
2. North America
In North America, the situation is far more complex since this is an area of mixed jurisdiction in which other Local Churches are present. Thus, the first problem is the much disputed autocephaly granted during the politically highly difficult Cold War period to the so-called English-speaking and new calendarist OCA (Orthodox Church in America). Controversially, its territory includes former Russian America (now Alaska) as well as Canada. Moreover, according to the Tomos of autocephaly, the Church inside Russia no longer has any right to found new parishes in North America.
Therefore, it now falls to ROCOR (not party to the Tomos) to open such new parishes and cater for the huge pastoral needs of the many new Russian Orthodox immigrants to North America, as it does already to all, of whatever nationality, who remain faithful to the Russian Orthodox Faith. In this matter ROCOR will certainly therefore need financial help from Russia. The future for the small number of parishes in North America still irregularly under the jurisdiction of the Church inside Russia, is to pass to the appropriate – and only – canonical part of the Russian Church outside Russia – that is, to ROCOR. Except for those who do not wish to go to ROCOR (like the two communities in Australia) and those whom ROCOR refuses as uncanonical (and there are some – perhaps they will join the OCA), the vast majority of parishes at present under the Church inside Russia will in time do exactly this.
This should be particularly easy in Canada, although none of this solves the problem of the huge territory granted to the OCA, including even Alaska. The OCA now also has a huge number of bishops, including four Metropolitans, yet probably numbers fewer than 30,000 active parishioners. We can only pray that in time the Church inside Russia, which is historically responsible for this situation, will find a canonical solution to it. Perhaps this will take the form of a revised Tomos, which will be canonically acceptable to all the Local Orthodox Churches.
3. Western Europe
Here is the most complex problem of all. Western Europe is not dominated by ROCOR, as Australia is, or for that matter North America. Instead the Russian Church presence here is divided into two halves, that of the canonical ROCOR and that of numerous parishes still irregularly under the Church inside Russia, even though they are outside Russia. For historical reasons it is only the German-speaking and French-speaking areas of Western Europe where ROCOR has a real presence and even here limited. Clearly, according to the Russian Orthodox canonical accords of 2007, the parishes of the Church inside Russia will have to be transferred and absorbed into the Church outside Russia with time. But how?
One of the major problems here is the weak episcopal presence on both sides, especially on the part of the Patriarchate. It urgently needs younger bishops who speak the local languages in Italy, Iberia, Scandinavia, Austria-Hungary and perhaps Benelux. It needs younger bishops who are not only bilingual, but also bicultural, thus understanding local people; the disastrous Sourozh episode of the early 2000s, of which the distracted Patriarchate in Moscow had been repeatedly alerted would happen, proves this point of the lack of understanding of the episcopate of local situations. Otherwise, it will simply be a Church of the ghetto, as ROCOR often used to be. As for ROCOR, it urgently needs a bishop in Great Britain (perhaps he could also cover Benelux, thus solving the problems of all Russian Orthodox parishes in Benelux). In Great Britain there has been no resident bishop in good health for nearly fifty years. It is a miracle that anything is left of the diocese here at all. All new bishops, of whatever background, should be trained at least to ROCOR pastoral standards.
Apart from the problems of elderly bishops or bishops who cannot communicate with and do not understand parts of their flocks, there are other Cold War canonical compromises that remain in several parishes in Western Europe which are still under the Church inside Russia – not least among these are also financial problems. However, with time, all these problems can be overcome. The absorption of these parishes into ROCOR can be managed, providing that time is taken over it.
4. Latin America
The difficulty here is that of the Great Britain Diocese writ large – the absence for many years of resident episcopal supervision. Gallantly Bishop John of Caracas carries out his duties in his now small diocese; but the horse has bolted. Meanwhile the parishes under the Church inside Russia that exist in South America have been left without a bishop at all. Latin America desperately needs bilingual Russian Orthodox Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking clergy; a dozen of them, with adequate finance, would make a huge difference. However, that is only the start, millions of Maya in Guatemala and millions of Brazilians want Orthodoxy, but there is no infrastructure to take pastoral care of them. Nowhere are problems as great as in Latin America – South, Central and North (Mexico).
Since the fall of atheist rule in Russia, an enormous amount has been done to sort out the problems of the Russian Church both inside Russia and, in recent years, outside Russia. However, much still remains to be done. A brief outline of the problem areas has been given above. As long as all takes place peacefully and in freedom, in due course the worldwide situation of the whole Church outside Russia, at present with over 820 parishes, many monasteries and two seminaries, will continue to improve.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
Moscow, 31 May 2013