Introduction: Local Churches
Over the years there has been much talk of creating Local Metropolias in the Orthodox Diaspora, which could with time become new Local Churches, uniting all Orthodox on their territory. Yet none has ever appeared. This is not only the case in North America, where there was once a (Carpatho-Russian) Metropolia, which then became the minority and for many uncanonical, but largely English-speaking ‘OCA’ (Orthodox Church in America), but it is also true of Western Europe. None of the talk of creating a new Local Church in any part of the Orthodox Diaspora has been fruitful, all the ideas have remained pipe-dreams. Why?
First of all, there have frequently been what may be called ‘ethnic projects’. This is the idea of granting autonomy, or even autocephaly, to an Archdiocese or Metropolia in a territory of the Diaspora. This simply amounts to treating the territory as an extension of another and foreign country. Notably, this means creating a Church in a place, rather than a Church of a place.
For example, the old translation of ROCOR (the Church Outside Russia) was ROCA (the Church Abroad). This is an absurd translation – unless what we mean is a temporary extension of a Church, which has been set up for immigrants who will sooner or later return to ‘the old country’ and their Church will then disappear. Those born locally who are part of ROCOR, whatever their origins, are not abroad. Officially, this translation was dropped in the 1970s – and yet is still frequently heard and used! Other national groups have done no better, everywhere it has been the same problem.
Only a Metropolia of a certain territory, and not in it, is the beginning of a Local Church, as by definition it uses mainly the local language or languages, since, in other words, it has integrated and cannot be transplanted elsewhere. If its members want to return somewhere else, always harping after a childhood home, then they will never become local – they will have no roots there. Thus, today, there are Russians, Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks etc in Western Europe who have no intention of staying here, of becoming of Western Europe. They can never form a Local Metropolia, let alone a new Local Church. They are certainly Orthodox, but they are definitely not Local.
On the other hand, there have also frequently been what may be called ‘local projects’. These have always been marked by what can be called ‘autocephalism’ or ‘autocephalitis’. This is the desire to assimilate the local culture, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or whatever. In any words, they gain local-ness, but lose the Faith – they are no longer Orthodox.
For example, we have the case of Finland, where many parishes that I have seen appear not to be sure whether they are Lutheran or Orthodox. They say: use only the local language (a dogma more important to them than the Holy Trinity), take out the iconostasis, do away with fasting and confession (and any other ascetic discipline) and give communion to all. Be local, be like the others – conform. This often happens when the locally-born second generation comes to power. Fleeing their parents’ ghetto, they suffer from an inferiority complex. But in desiring the local, they lose the Faith.
Thus, they end up with something local, only it is not Orthodox. I remember forty years ago hearing a recording of an OCA Liturgy. It was not just American, it was super-American; at moments it seemed like listening to a cowboy film. Clearly, this had been done deliberately by people who were second-generation Americans, who wanted to be more American than Americans. Russian intellectuals and aristocrats in France did the same, making Orthodoxy into a bourgeois French philosophy. This was also the case in the old Sourozh project, which was Parisian pretending to be Russian. Phyletist to the core, they threw out anyone who was not ex-Anglican or was Russian-speaking.
Conclusion: Orthodoxy and Integration, Not Heterodoxy and Assimilation
In the real world, Local Churches start by learning Orthodoxy and then become Local. They have to keep the Orthodox Tradition, but also have to be local, inculturated, integrated, using the local language and not ‘translationese’. All must keep faith with the One Orthodox Tradition, without compromise, without assimilation, yet all must prove themselves to be Local, that is, as Churches that cannot be transferred elsewhere. Thus, all must start with the maximum, never the minimum, that is, we start with monasticism, whether it is Sts Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs, St Herman in Alaska or St Nicholas in Japan.