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From Confusion to Fusion: A United Russian Orthodox Church Working Together for the Diaspora

1. Introduction: An opportunity missed by those who preferred disunity

The historic reconciliation of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) took place two and a half years ago. This was when the MP entered into canonical communion with ROCOR and vice versa. This event of Ascension Day 2007 was a great spiritual victory over both political meddling in Church life and sectarian temptations. ‎

True, some tiny dissident groups, often misled by puritanical Donatism or Cold War Russophobia, could not accept this unity. The fact that the MP had entered into canonical communion with ROCOR and vice versa was unacceptable to them. Tragically, they thus ‘walled themselves off’ (their own terminology) from communion with 75% of the Orthodox Church.

It is also true that other small uprooted groups, issued from Eastern Slav emigrations a century or so ago and based mainly in France and North America, still have to reunite with the MP/ROCOR. Otherwise, they too will remain outside the reunited and so renewed Russian Orthodox Church, isolated in ethnic and ideological groups, Ukrainian, American or Parisian. The Church patiently awaits patiently their acceptance of reality and rejection of nationalist and Non-Orthodox illusions. However, the Church goes on without them and such minor groups are already tragically missing out on the second stage of co-operation between the MP and ROCOR. This involves the reorganisation of the Diaspora. What does it entail?

2. Zones of Influence

Had the territory covered by the MP been restricted to the former Soviet Union and the territory covered by ROCOR been restricted to the Diaspora, everything would have been clear-cut. True, the few tiny and non-sectarian temporary communities of ROCOR on former Soviet territory were soon assimilated into the MP there. But this still leaves the increasing numbers of some 200 MP churches outside ex-Soviet territory in the Diaspora, territory it shares with the 400 churches of ROCOR. That is to say, the 13 ROCOR bishops are called on to work with the 7 MP diocesan bishops outside Russia. How could these churches work together constructively?

It is now already clear that the two parts of the Russian Church in the Diaspora are called on to work together, in zones of influence. For example, there seems little point in the MP having any parishes in Australia or even perhaps the United States, where ROCOR is so big. In the same way, there seems little possibility, need or legitimate justification for ROCOR ever to have any parishes in China, which is after all the canonical territory of the Chinese Orthodox Church of the MP, or in Thailand, where a successful MP mission already operates.

The MP is able to use its political connections and its network of embassies to support its parishes and monasteries in certain parts of the world, just as ROCOR is able to use its rootedness in other parts of the world. The situation appears to be settling itself constructively into the establishment of zones, where each part of the Russian Orthodox Church can exploit its strengths for the benefit of all. These zones are:

The MP Zones

Eastern Europe, Mt Athos, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, North Korea, India, Nepal, Thailand, Africa, Cuba, South America.

It may be noted that these zones are either areas of settlement from the former Soviet Union (Eastern Europe - including the former East Germany and also, monastically speaking, Mt Athos). Or else they are zones where the diplomatic, logistical or simply human presence of the MP is relatively strong (China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, North Korea, India, Nepal, Thailand), or else they are both (Africa, Cuba, South America).

The ROCOR Zones

North America, Australia, Indonesia, Indonesia, South Korea and among native Orthodox who, or whose ancestors, converted to Russian Orthodoxy.

These ROCOR zones are either areas of access difficult to the MP during the Cold War (North America and Australia). Or else they are zones where expansion took place locally (Indonesia from Australia), or else they are both (South Korea). However, they also include zones where a scattering of conversions has taken place. The fact is that in general ROCOR has a far greater pastoral understanding of local needs and experience of making and using liturgical translations in Western European languages than the MP, which is only just beginning to understand this. The MP here is in many respects still fifty years or more behind ROCOR.

Zones of Mixed MP and ROCOR Interest

Western Europe, the Holy Land.

There are more MP bishops in Western Europe than ROCOR bishops. Partly this is because of new Slav emigration to countries like Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Partly because of the Paris schism in France and Belgium and disastrous ROCOR history in countries like Great Britain, Holland and Austria, the MP is much stronger there than ROCOR. On the other hand, ROCOR does have strong points in the former West Germany, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland. As regards the Holy Land, this is likely to remain an area of responsibility shared between the MP and ROCOR for the foreseeable future. However, it is also true that as pilgrimages resume from Russian lands, the MP will have growing authority here.


In the past, Soviet Communists infiltrated into the MP, often among their useful allies, the renovationists, and sectarian elements infiltrated into ROCOR, often among those who had lost their sense of Russian reality through lifetime exile or those who were not of Russian origin. These negative infiltrations made all possibility of co-operation between the MP and ROCOR impossible. However, the present and the future do not look like this. They look constructive.

Both the MP and ROCOR have their strengths. The MP has diplomatic openings and logistical possibilities. ROCOR has knowledge of local languages and cultures. It is to be hoped that they can work together. Certainly from the ROCOR point of view, the best thing that the MP could do would be to help MP and ROCOR clergy in the Diaspora practically, so that they can survive. As for Church buildings, this will come with time and united efforts. It is only when this second stage of established zones of influence has been achieved that the third stage of MP and ROCOR unity can come, leading out of confusion to fusion. This is the stage of three Metropolias, in Western Europe, the Americas and Australasia, under a ROCOR which means what it calls itself. This means the Church, which includes all the multinational Russian Orthodox Churches outside Russia, and which keep the authentic (and not a fantastical) Russian Orthodox Tradition, in whatever language is pastorally required. These Metropolias, in God’s good time and not the premature time of immature humans, will be the foundation stones of new Local Churches. And these will be desperately needed as witnesses to the Church of Christ in territories from where, by then, every last vestige of authentic Christianity outside Orthodoxy may well have disappeared.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

26 October/8 November
Holy Great Martyr Demetrius

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