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Where are the Keys to the Kingdom?
The 2008 Council of Bishops in Moscow and the Unity of the Church

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom

Matt 16, 19


The four-yearly Council of Bishops of the multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox Church is now taking place in Moscow. It has been announced there that the Russian Orthodox Church now has 196 bishops, 30,544 clergy and 769 monasteries and convents. The number of churches is increasing by five per day, between 1,500 and 2,000 per year, and is now nearly 31,000, the same as the number of clergy.

It is notable that the present number of churches is almost exactly the same as the number of New Martyrs and Confessors, who have been canonised in the ever-growing list of Russian Orthodox saints of the twentieth century. This list continues to grow and eventually with further documentary research it is expected to extend to at least 100,000 catalogued saints and lives. Since, in an extraordinary way, the numbers in the list appear to run parallel to the number of parishes, there are those who hope to see the day when the Russian Church will be composed of at least 100,000 parishes, twice the number of 1917. It is notable that the number of monasteries and convents is already higher than that of 1917.

It is also highly significant that for the first time, bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) are taking part in this Council. Our Metropolitan Hilarion has made a speech there, forcefully and without compromise or hindrance expressing our concerns on ecumenism. Thanks to the reconciliation of 2007, the voice of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is now being listened to by the episcopate, clergy and people of the whole Russian Orthodox Church, something impossible and unthinkable at the last Bishops’ Council four years ago. Our God is indeed the God who works miracles.

The theme of the 2008 Council is Church Unity. This is of particular significance, given that the two parts of the Russian Church, the Patriarchate and ROCOR reunited only last year, both abandoning politically-conditioned Cold War excesses. However, many dangers for unity still exist. These disintegrating trends threaten the literal and spiritual integrity of the Church and can be listed as follows:

1.The Ukraine

Apart from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, two schismatic, semi-Orthodox groups also exist in the Ukraine. At present the Church and these two groups are being pressured by secular and nationalist politicians like Viktor Yushchenko and provincial Galician politicians to fall into Uniatism. In this way, politicians and nationalists could construct and impose an Autocephalous Ukrainian Church, which would be Roman Catholic Ukrainian first and Orthodox last. Sadly there are also pressures from Rome, Warsaw and, even more sadly, from ‘Orthodox’ modernists in Istanbul, whose dream it is to take over the Ukraine as part of a worldwide ecclesiastical Empire of ‘Eastern papism’.

It may be that in the Ukraine Orthodox will yet have to witness with their blood for the sake of Russian Orthodox Church Unity. If so, we are ready.


As mentioned above, this tiny but ancient Patriarchate, which is less than 2,000 strong in Istanbul itself, has been interfering in Church life in the Ukraine. Sadly, it has interfered even more actively and created schisms elsewhere, in Estonia. France and England, thus souring its relations with the rest of the Orthodox world and putting itself on the fringes of the Orthodox world.

Its ecclesiastical imperialism, inspired by the State Department of the USA and masonic lodges (some would say that these are the same thing), is resisted by faithful and conscious Orthodox in all the Local Orthodox Churches, which outnumber it by far. One of the main seats of resistance is on the Holy Mountain of Athos, which is within the Constantinople jurisdiction. We pray that the Church of Constantinople will return to its former place in the mainstream of Orthodox life, throwing off political temptations and the fallacies of ecumenism and so isolationism within the family of Local Orthodox Churches.

3.The Romanian Church

Sadly, the Romanian Church has set up plans to take over the Church in the independent Republic of Moldova, which is a Metropolia of the multinational and multilingual Russian Orthodox Church. These plans would create two Churches on the same territory, an uncanonical situation (as in Estonia, where there is a tiny ‘Church’ under Constantinople, which has about 10% of the Estonian Orthodox population under it). Of course, if Moldova, which is basically a Romanian-speaking country, and its Church, which is basically a Romanian-speaking Church, wishes to give up its political independence and become part of Romania, it would be normal that the Metropolia there transfer its allegiance to the Romanian Church. But to set up two Churches on the same territory is unacceptable. Even more sadly, the Romanian Church has even threatened to set up parishes in the Ukraine, where Romanian-speaking parishes happily co-exist with Ukrainian speaking parishes under the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

We can only hope that the nationalist, political agenda of the new Romanian Patriarchate, at present also under pressure from the problems raised by its new, Uniat Archbishop Nicolae of the Banat and the Romanian government, which recently gave up its sovereignty to the EU, will cease. Then the previous excellent relations between the Russian and Romanian Churches can resume.


There is within Russia among the newly-baptised but still unChurched millions a tendency towards ‘Diomidism’, that is the nationalist xenophobia and isolationism of the Patriarchal Bishop Diomid of Chukotka. This tendency goes much further than some similar tendencies in the emigration. It even goes to the extremes of calling for the canonisation of Tsar Ivan the Threatening (often miscalled ‘the Terrible’ in English) and the layman Gregory Rasputin and refusing to pay income tax. Although both these figures were and are much slandered by Western and Westernised historians, no Churched Orthodox would think of them as saints. As for rejecting tax codes, we can only repeat the words of the Gospel: ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’.

By the grace of God, with time, patience and much more information, such people will become Churched. We suggest that they visit ROCOR parishes in the West, where we are certainly not isolated, but still hold the Faith. This may help them to come to a Churchly and balanced understanding of the real world. Of course, Metropolitan Hilarion’s uncompromising speech on ecumenism at the Bishops’ Council should already help them, as also those small numbers outside Russia who did not follow ROCOR’s reconciliation with the Patriarchate..


On the other hand, among the newly-baptised but still unChurched millions, there is also the opposite extreme of modernist Neo-Renovationism. Led by figures like Fr George Kochetkov in Moscow, those who are great admirers of the neo-Catholic Fr Alexander Men, and by old renovationist Orthodox in the West, such as Bishop Basil Osborn, Olivier Clement, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and their now mainly deceased mentors from the Paris emigration clergy in Paris, the USA, Finland and elsewhere, they would like Russian Orthodoxy to merge with Protestantism and Uniatism.

By the grace of God, these individuals, now dying out, will eventually come to repentance and the realisation of the truth, understanding the Church and Her Church culture (‘Tserkovnost’). Repentance will bring with it not only spiritual realisation and understanding, but also the abandonment of both liberal secularism and equally secular conservative moralism. The Church is beyond all these secular fads. She lives in Tradition, in the Holy Spirit.

6.Diaspora Autocephalism

Finally, as in the Ukraine, there is the problem of autocephalism in the Diaspora, especially in the USA. Here, there is the OCA organisation, begotten during the Cold War like a premature baby and unrecognised by the majority of Local Churches. One quarter of its membership is now leaving it, to return to the now free Romanian Mother-Church and there are moves by some other OCA members to return to their now free Mother-Churches, whether Bulgarian, Albanian and above all Russian. This is the case especially in Alaska and to some extent in Canada. The example of ROCOR and its reconciliation with the Mother Russian Church is clearly behind this. That is why the reconciliation was so opposed by senior modernist elements in the OCA, who attempted to sabotage it, as they wish to remain outside canonically-recognised bodies. Eventually, they may join anti-Tradition Protestantised/ Americanised elements in groups like the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America. The same can also be said of the European Paris Exarchate under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is divided down the middle between Churchly elements who wish to return to the Russian Mother-Church with their pre-Revolutionary Church property, and renovationists, who wish to destroy the Russian Tradition and completely merge with anti-Tradition modernist elements inside the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The above movement of autocephalism was brought about by placing nationality above Orthodoxy. Placing Ukrainianism, Americanism, French/Western intellectualism or any other sort of ethnophyletism, be it Russian (Bishop Diomid), Romanian or Greek, above the Holy Spirit is responsible for all these divisions. These divisions exist and can only continue to exist through the lack of spirituality and the absence of spiritual thinking of the majority. Therefore, their inherent problems can only be overcome by substantial numbers in these groups putting the Holy Spirit first. Only when the Holy Spirit comes first, will Orthodox Tradition, the Life of the Spirit, come first. Then the various forms of secularism found in such groups, whether tedious liberal modernism (common among renovationist pseudo-intellectuals) or tedious conservative moralism (common among fundamentalist Evangelicals) will come last.


The spiritual flatness and emptiness of so much of ‘Orthodox’ life reduces the Church to a mere ‘religion’, instead of Faith. It reduces the Church to mere institutions and bureaucracies, instead of a vibrant and dynamic soul-saving organism. Such spiritual emptiness and shallowness merely ‘preserves’ ethnic customs instead of living the life of the Spirit. Therefore, it is called on to die out. This is already happening, as the old generation who blocked spiritual progress for so long reach their sixties, seventies and eighties and die out.

The way ahead for Orthodoxy is in what I was privileged to see last week in the wonderful family atmosphere in the Church of the Nativity of Christ at Erie in Pennsylvania.

There the children of the parish are called on to hold dearly three values. These are:

Faith. Respect. Tradition.

These values are Trinitarian. They provide the solution to all six disintegrating trends, which are outlined above and threaten the integrity and unity of Church Life. Thus, we have Faith, because we believe in the Father. We have Respect for all other human-beings, Orthodox or Non-Orthodox, because we believe that the Son of God took on human nature, becoming man. And we believe in the Tradition of the Church, because Tradition is the sum of the continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit on human history and activity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Those who put secular, ethnic and political ideologies first will lose the keys to the Kingdom. But those who put these values of Faith, Respect and Tradition first are those who will gain the keys to the Kingdom. Let us be warned and take this warning to our hearts.

Priest Andrew Phillips,
East Anglia

12/25 June 2008
St Onuphrius the Great
St Peter of Mt Athos

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