Towards a Local Church of Western Europe

A Metropolia of Western Europe

It was in April 1988 that I first proposed in French a paper on a Metropolia of Western Europe, composed of six dioceses in six different linguistic and cultural areas (cross-border) which I called, Gallia, Germania, Iberia, Italia, Scandinavia and the Isles. (See, ‘A Vision for the Orthodox Churches of Western Europe’, published in Orthodox England, Vol 4, No 1, September 2001). My thought then was that this could become the foundation of a restored Local Church of Western Europe. This was a historic suggestion, as for well over 900 years this had ceased to exist.

Thirty Years Ago

The idea was dismissed in Paris, the historic centre of the Russian emigration in Western Europe, and the forward-looking project proved to be impossible then. There were only three groups who could realistically have contributed something towards it: the Rue Daru or Paris Exarchate group (RD); the Moscow Patriarchate Exarchate (MP) and the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Of these three, the old Rue Daru had tied itself up in modernist knots (nothing can be built on compromises) and in any case under US-run Constantinople it was not politically free to do anything of the sort.

As for the old MP, it was tiny because it was so distrusted by all. Run in fact by part of the Soviet Communist Party, it too was not politically free and moreover it had dangerously renovationist figures in it. As for the old ROCOR, it was small, disorganized, elderly and above all, inward-looking, as it still defined itself as being a group opposed to the atheist regime inside Russia, rather than as a key part of a future Local Church. It was living in reference to the past, not the future. The situation was to alter radically only after the year 2000, for those with the vision to see ahead.

Fifteen Years Ago

After the Moscow Council of August 2000, with a new archbishop after 1993, the Rue Daru group fell into conversations with the by then largely politically free MP, which was still very small in Western Europe. It was virtually agreed that RD would at last return to the jurisdiction of the MP and become an autonomous Metropolia within it, as a foundation for a future Local Church. However, Archbishop Serge (Konovalov) of the Rue Daru jurisdiction was to die tragically on 22 January 2003 and the next archbishop, Gabriel (De Vylder), was a furious Russophobe and strongly modernistic.

Indeed, since then, having missed the boat and set on a suicidal path, the Rue Daru group has largely fallen into irrelevance, its vital forces having quit it for one part or the other of the Russian Orthodox Church. Looking back, there was Providence here, since Archbishop Serge’s hopes would in any case have been dashed by the dominant wing of the Exarchate, represented by his successor. Today Rue Daru represents only 60 scattered parishes and communities, most of them very small. Most of its living parishes are in fact Moldovan and Romanian, with priests loaned by the MP.

The MP Needs a Partner

Why did the MP enter into such negotiations with Rue Daru? Simply because alone it could do nothing. Thus, even though the once few MP parishes of 30 years ago today number perhaps 250 in Western Europe with six bishops, dwarving the one-bishop Rue Daru group (ROCOR has about 100 parishes in Western Europe with three bishops), it is essentially an ethnic group. It is composed of recent immigrants, often  not understanding local languages and culture. The MP needs those who have this understanding. Let us compare as examples the MP and ROCOR dioceses in the Isles.

Although on paper the MP diocese here is much bigger, in reality most of its communities are tiny (less than ten!), often with only a few services a year, without property and without a regular priest. It is a paper empire, all its money expended on its ex-Anglican church in London. ROCOR probably actually has almost as many people, more property, is better established and tends to attract people who are better-established in these Isles. Often, those immigrants who have been here for more than ten years tend to drift across to ROCOR, their children more integrated into society.

Today

The old, inward-looking and too often politicized ROCOR, which largely died out in the 1980s and 1990s, could not have been a partner for the ultimate aim of building a new Local Church: however, the new ROCOR, born after the reconciliation with the MP in 2007, can be such a partner. The MP of the early 2000s, still with an old-fashioned, Sovietized cast of mind, could not see this and sought the wrong partner, one compromised in modernism. Today it needs a skeleton, a structure, solid Russian Orthodox people with local knowledge: it is only ROCOR that can provide this.