Although fourteen Local Orthodox Churches make up the whole Orthodox Church of 216 million, only seven of them are represented by their jurisdictions outside the Local Orthodox Church homelands in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. However, since the Churches of Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Georgia generally care only for their own nationals, only three of these jurisdictions are open to Non-Orthodox. These three depend on the Patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch and Moscow.
However, in Western Europe and North America there at present exist two groups in the Russian Church – that directly under Moscow and that under the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and so indirectly under Moscow. In North America, there is actually a third group, known as the OCA (Orthodox Church in America), originally largely Carpatho-Russian but now basically English-language, which was founded by Moscow. Anyone wishing to join the Orthodox Church may therefore have a choice to make.
Generally speaking, in Western countries, where Orthodox Christians are only a small minority and Orthodox churches are few and far between, this choice will be decided geographically. If you only have one Orthodox church geographically near you, then that is the church to join. However, if you live in or near the capital of a Western country or in or near a large city or town, there may well be a choice to make between the various jurisdictions. What needs to be known in order to choose?
1. The Patriarchate of Constantinople
This jurisdiction is dominated by Greek nationalism (the Greek flag) and generally sends away any Non-Greeks who knock at its door. It should also be known that this Patriarchate is both heavily involved with the Vatican and is run by the US political elite. For it, Washington is the ‘Second Rome’ and therefore the official ethos is modernistic, ecumenistic and generally liberal Protestant, according to the anti-Russian, Anglo-Saxon Establishment model. This is true even of Non-Greek parts of it, even though they try and imitate a few selected Russian customs. Having said this, there are exceptions, with some excellent pastors and pious people, so that any generalizations can be disproved by exceptions to the rule. If you are fortunate, you may live near a church of this jurisdiction that is not nationalistic and so is interested in missions to the Non-Greek world and has spiritual depth and content.
2. The Patriarchate of Antioch
Part of this jurisdiction is dominated by Arab nationalism, but the other part, mainly in Western countries, is dominated by a spirit of mission with a conservative-evangelical Protestant style, with a certain, rather peculiar and amateurish imitation of a few selected Russian customs. The ethos of this part, largely run by ex-Evangelicals, is to proselytize, that is, its ethos is to recruit as many like-minded converts as possible to itself. Some criticize it for this because as a result it cuts corners, fails to observe the canons and has a Protestant feel to it that attracts few cradle Orthodox (and it is not even very interested in this), certainly none who are anchored in the Tradition. Having said this, no-one would criticize this part of Antioch for its lack of zeal, only for its lack of depth and of knowledge of the Tradition. If you are fortunate, you may live near a church of this jurisdiction that has spiritual depth and content.
3. The Patriarchate of Moscow
A criticism of this jurisdiction is that its Patriarch and hierarchy are corrupt. Those who make such assertions never have any proof of them and are engaged in Western-sponsored, anti-Russian politics. However, even if, for the sake of argument, we agree that they were true, we would answer: So what? The Patriarch is not the Head of the Church, for Christ is the Head of the Church and the Patriarch does not run the Church, for the Holy Spirit runs the Church. Such political criticisms show a Papist way of thinking. The parishes of the Patriarchate of Moscow outside the former Soviet Union, mainly in Western Europe and South America, display several tendencies. Some are nationalistic and, Soviet-style, arrogantly imperialistic, some are modernistic, others follow the Tradition and accept Non-Russians. If you are fortunate, you may live near a church of this jurisdiction that has spiritual depth and content.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) exists mainly in North America, Australasia and Western Europe. As such it has been responsible for much missionary and translation work. It has in its near-100 year history also been subject to many sufferings and persecution, as it has been without the political protection of a powerful State. Thus, the best of ROCOR has been a Church of Confessors and Missionaries, as in its saints like St John of Shanghai. However, other parts of it have been involved in nationalism, excessive strictness to the point of phariseeism and depressing right-wing politics. Today, as part of the Russian Orthodox Church, it has sometimes given the impression of drifting and having lost its identity. This drift has come about whenever its faithfulness to the Tradition has been in doubt. If you are fortunate, you may live near a church of this jurisdiction that has spiritual depth and content.