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The Gathering of Holy Orthodoxy

Met. Philaret's vestments

The news that the episcopal staff and vestments of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), the third Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, have been given to His Holiness Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, has been welcomed with joy by all faithful Orthodox.

Metropolitan Philaret (+ 1985) was renowned for his strict adherence to Orthodox Tradition, which came from his love for the purity of Holy Orthodoxy. In particular, he spoke up against the persecution of the Russian Church inside Russia by the atheist Soviet State and it was he who pushed forward the canonization of the Russian New Martyrs and Confessors in 1981. His relics have since been found incorrupt at the ROCOR Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville in the USA. Metropolitan Philaret said that if ever Communism were to fall, he would return to Russia at once, on foot. The fact that his vestments and staff are being sent from the ROCOR parish in Boston to Moscow therefore symbolizes his posthumous return there. Furthermore, we see great symbolism in the fact that the vestments of him who canonized the New Martyrs outside Russia 25 years ago are now being given to the Patriarch of All Rus who canonized the New Martyrs inside Russia. Thus, the Metropolitan's wishes have been heard.

The recent interview with His Holiness Patriarch Alexis, published in the well-known French magazine Paris Match last week, has also highlighted the situation of the now free Russian Orthodox Church. According to Patriarch Alexis, statistics reveal that 80% of the 143 million population of the Russian Federation are now baptized Orthodox. In addition there are probably another 50 million baptized Orthodox in other parts of the former Soviet Union, such as the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Baltic States, Kazakhstan etc, as well as all those scattered throughout the Western world, from the Americas to Africa, from Australia to Western Europe.

Of course, as the Patriarch says, it is true that most of the newly-baptized Orthodox are only nominally Orthodox. Naturally, therefore the struggle continues to church these masses. This means the struggle against vestiges of the old Soviet mentality, with its abortion and divorce culture, primitive superstitions, denunciations, bribery and, in the Church, simony (problems which, it must be said, began long before the Revolution and are to be found not only in the Patriarchal Russian Church). Only today it has been announced that a church is being built in the Kuzbas by women, dedicated to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, where all unborn children will be commemorated. We pray that it will be the first of many in Russia, a mark of repentance for the Soviet abortion holocaust, and a hope that the demographic crisis there will be overcome.

Nevertheless, even with these reservations in mind, the Russian Church by far outnumbers all the Orthodox Churches put together. As Patriarch Alexis points out, in comparison, the flock of the historic Patriarchate of Constantinople numbers perhaps only one million. This is less than one per cent of the worldwide Russian Orthodox flock. Not only does the Russian Church play an vital inter-Orthodox role, but also it plays a pivotal role in dealing with both the Muslim world and the Western world. On the one hand, Russia has long lived with a Muslim minority and Muslim pressures. On the other hand, Russia has no illusions either about present Roman Catholic aggression or the decadent modernism of the modern secular West. (See our recent article The Orthodox Church between East and West on St Theodore of Ostrog, under Orthodox Holiness on this site).

It is clear that all Orthodox are now looking towards Russia, as the centre of World Orthodoxy. Inevitably, the powers and minds of Holy Orthodoxy are gathering together, drawn to the vortex of Russian Orthodoxy. Indeed, in the fast-evolving contemporary world the importance of Russian Orthodoxy is becoming apparent even to the secular-minded journalists of such organs of the Western Press as Paris Match. The responsibility of the Russian Church today is therefore very great.

In the provincial backwaters of Orthodox England, with its very chequered history of recent decades and profound sense of exile, we too now look towards Orthodox Russia and we too hope that we will not be disappointed.

1/14 November 2006
Holy Wonderworkers Cosmas and Damian and their mother Theodota

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