At the Peace Forum in Rome on 23 October, President Macron of France spoke in front of an audience of many Church leaders, including Metr Antony (Sevriuk), reckoned to be the No 2 of the Moscow Patriarchate. The President stated that the Russian Orthodox Church (both the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR) is manipulated by the Russian State.
This was said in front of many other Orthodox clergy, including our friends from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church and our own Metropolitan Joseph (Pop) of the Romanian Orthodox Church, whose Autonomous Metropolia numbers 4 million Orthodox in Western Europe. (This makes him the bishop with by far the largest Orthodox flock in Western Europe, far larger than the total flock of many Local Orthodox Churches). Is the Russian Orthodox Church manipulated by the Russian State, as President Macron claimed? Whether it is true or not is irrelevant, the fact is that this is the Western Establishment perception – and has long been. For them the Russian Orthodox Church is no more independent of the Russian State than the Church of England is from the British government, whose new and entirely expected Hindu Prime Minister will nominate all its bishops.
The only exception to this possibly true claim of subservience to the Russian State is the small but much-persecuted Russian Orthodox Western European Archdiocese under Metropolitan Jean of Dubna. There clergy are allowed to commemorate or not the Russian Orthodox Patriarch. The Archdiocese is where we were not allowed to stay by Metropolitan Antony (Sevriuk). Thus, highly providentially, we were safely received into the above-mentioned Romanian Patriarchal Metropolia of Western and Southern Europe eight days before the Special Military Operation in the Ukraine began on 24 February 2022.
Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch has been banned from visiting his flock in four countries through a personal ‘sanction’. These countries are the Ukraine, Canada, the UK and Lithuania. As well as this, the Russian Church has had to withdraw its bishops from Northern America (the USA and Canada) and from the UK. Bishopless churches are churches that will die out. What is to be done? You can sit it all out and wait till the war in the Ukraine is over. This appears to be the policy of many. However, that does not solve the pastoral problems in the here and now or the problems in the future, which will be even greater.
The Russian Orthodox Faith first came under persecution in the Ukraine in 2018, when the CIA with the help of Poroshenko and certain Greek Orthodox individuals who set up an uncanonical Church, so that Ukrainian Orthodox would not belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Few fell for this trick and the new ‘Church’ failed. This year the canonical Church in the Ukraine has come under even greater persecution and was forced to declare itself ‘fully independent’ of Moscow. Of its 12,000 churches, 2,000 have been taken away from it by force and nearly all of them now stand locked and empty. The US-sponsored Ukrainian nationalist persecution resembles very closely that of the Bolsheviks.
Only recently a curious though different fate has befallen the Russian Orthodox Church in Latvia, which was declared independent by the Latvian government. It has no choice other than to accept this imposed independence. It looks as though the same is about to happen in Lithuania and Estonia. However, we note that the Russian-founded Orthodox Churches in Poland, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and in the USA (the OCA) are not suffering from any persecution from their States because they are associated with the Russian Orthodox Church. Why? Because they are all ‘Autocephalous’, i.e. canonically fully independent.
Surely this is the way out for the whole of the Russian Church, which is not inside the Russian Federation and Belarus? In any case, the difference between Orthodoxy and Papism is surely that we do not have a Pope, that we do not claim some sort of universal jurisdiction. When a Local Church sets up a mission in another country or a country becomes politically independent from the one where the Local Church is based, and that mission is successful, inevitably, that country ends up having its own Local Church. And the new Local Church is independent of political pressure from foreign governments (and from its own government).
A Patriarch is not a Pope. We ignore any ‘Eastern Papist’ temptations or claims of any Patriarchate (e.g. the deliberate misinterpretation of Canon 28 of Chalcedon, for instance). We know that the hubris of power is always punished. We do not confess any universal jurisdiction, but missionary autocephalies, as in the Local Churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessalonica. Let us be frank: There is room for very many to stand on the moral high ground in the Orthodox Church. If some want to compromise themselves politically or have little integrity or conscience and do not wish to stand there, that is not our business. We shall continue to stand there, waiting for others to join us, whatever the stones they cast at us.