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Ascension 2009: Two Years On

You rose up through the tempest and the storm,
To save the world that did not believe in you.

‘Before the Countenance of my Homeland’, A. Vertinsky.

In August 1905, twelve years before 1917, the Russian poet Alexander Blok wrote a famous and prophetic poem, ‘A girl was singing in the choir’. We have translated it thus:

    A girl was singing in the choir with deep emotion.
    She sang of all who dwelt abroad in weariness,
    Of all the ships sailed away across the sea and ocean,
    Of all who long ago had lost their happiness.
    As her voice sang and soared right up to the dome, glistening
    Across her shoulder fell a ray of white sunlight.
    And all who stood and peered out from the darkness listening,
    Watching, saw the white dress sing in that ray so bright.
    It seemed to all that joy would come in a little while,
    That all the ships lay anchored in a haven safe,
    That in foreign lands all the weary in their exile
    Had found a life that brightly shone with living faith.
    And the voice was sweet and the ray of light was slender.
    But with the holy gifts beside the royal church door,
    A child partaking of the mysteries wept, made tender,
    Knowing that not one of them would come home once more.

The above was prophetic, for the Russian emigration did not ‘come home once more’. It died in exile and lies out beneath the sun and rain in graveyards from Berlin to Brazzaville, Caracas to Christchurch, Gallipoli to Galway, Harbin to Hobart, Jersey to Jerusalem, Lima to London, Lisbon to Los Angeles, Paris to Prague, Rio to Rome, Shanghai to Stockholm, Singapore to Sofia, Tokyo to Tunis, Teheran to Toronto, Warsaw to Washington, and in a multitude of great cities and small villages inbetween, scattered across the whole face of the earth, in ‘foreign towns’ (1) so exotic that only the singer Vertinsky could have thought of them (2).

However, after ninety years, the descendants of the Russian emigration did ‘come home once more’, on Ascension Day 2007. Then the two parts of the Russian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church headquartered in Moscow and the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) headquartered in New York, the Church of the descendants of the exiles and of the members of their missions, joined together. Thus, in the space of a few years, ROCOR, went from being an officially unrecognised, free and self-governing, but mocked, ignored and persecuted part of by far the largest Local Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church (3), to being an officially recognised, free and self-governing part of that Church. Nothing changed, except the official recognition, and so everything changed.

At the Russian Orthodox Jubilee Council in Moscow in August 2000, its leaders, at last in freedom after the time of their physical persecution, were able to confess publicly the Orthodox Faith which ROCOR had always confessed at the time of our verbal persecution. This was and is the same Faith that the clergy and people there had always privately confessed. No more is ROCOR absurdly branded ‘schismatic’. We never were. We were only waiting for the hierarchy in Moscow to liberate itself from Soviet persecution, modernist infiltration, self-censoring reflexes and political compromises which had resulted from that persecution. The Cold War rhetoric and accusation of ‘schism’ always was ridiculous. No schism ever took place – simply ROCOR was waiting for Moscow to become free, so that we could be together again.

All this is now history. All who call themselves Russian Orthodox, of whatever nationality, are now together. What can we say of the future? It is possible that those who belong to various tiny fragments, broken away from the Russian Orthodox Church, will wish to join us in the future. It is also possible that others, not Russian Orthodox, will want to work with us in the future. This is because now, together in the united and multinational Russian Orthodox Church, with the past behind us, we are walking towards the future. We are walking towards the execution of a great task, so cruelly interrupted by the seizure of power in Russia in 1917, first by tyrannical ‘liberals’, financed from Western Europe, and then by tyrannical Bolsheviks, financed from New York.

This great task before us is to establish missions of the Russian Orthodox Church worldwide, both in the seventh part of the world where Orthodoxy is the majority, if often the nominal majority, and in the sixth-sevenths of the world, where it forms a tiny minority or is even utterly unknown. This great task is to witness to the Orthodox Faith to the four corners of a world which has lost its way.

This, it is already notable that one of the two leading members of the Russian Orthodox delegation to the Pan-Orthodox Conference that will meet in Cyprus in a few days time is Archbishop Mark of ROCOR. The other, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokalamsk, has said that ‘the consolidation of Orthodox diasporas could lead to the appearance of new Local Orthodox Churches’ and that ‘the most important task is ‘the strengthening of Church unity, while keeping the Tradition’. How prophetically the poet wrote:

    It seemed to all that joy would come in a little while,
    That all the ships lay anchored in a haven safe,
    That in foreign lands all the weary in their exile
    Had found a life that brightly shone with living faith.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,
Colchester, Essex

The Leavetaking of the Ascension
23 May / 5 June 2009


1.Чужие города.

2. Thus, the day before yesterday I was in the tiny medieval village churchyard of Claydon in Suffolk, England, where there are two graves of exiled émigrés. There they rest under three-barred crosses beneath English grass, carolled by English birdsong.

3. As regards mocking, we remember only too well how the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors by ROCOR in 1981 was greeted with scorn by senior representatives of various Orthodox groupings in the USA and France. We hope that those representatives, most of them dead now, repented before the end. As regards persecution, even in the 1980s the grandchildren of Russian Orthodox émigrés were still being stalked in the streets of Paris by KGB men from the Soviet Embassy.

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