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The recent appeal of parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral at Ennismore Gardens in London makes tragic but hardly new reading. Their request that a new parish adhering to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in London be founded and given stavropegic status directly under the Patriarchate in Moscow, outside the authority of the present ruling bishop of the Surozh Diocese, has been rejected. This is hardly the first time that this idea has been discussed, although it is the first time that a petition has actually been heard in Moscow. The lack of pastoral care for members of the Patriarchal Church faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in London and elsewhere has been a well-known fact for over twenty years. Unfortunately Metropolitan Kirill's answer, made public on 2 December (see, will do little to reassure those who addressed this appeal to the Patriarchate in Moscow.

The fact is that for over twenty years those faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in London have suffered from the lack of pastoral care. In the huge area of London and its suburbs, with a population of twelve million people, there are only two Russian Orthodox churches with clergy. The suffering was for long compounded by the refusal to open other Russian Orthodox churches even anywhere near London which could have provided regular pastoral care and parish life. In fact the whole of the south-east of England was concerned. This pastoral disaster was worsened by the fact that these two churches were supposed to provide pastoral care for both Russian faithful of the Russian Church and English faithful too.

We well recall twenty-two years ago being informed by a responsible person that anyone who wanted to be faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in England would either have to move to London or else travel a lot - 400 miles per weekend was not unknown. At that time there was no question of appealing to the Patriarchate in Moscow, for it was still Communist-controlled. The result was that most people either left the Patriarchal Russian Church for the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) or else moved abroad. Others, especially English Orthodox, left for the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Antioch, or else simply stopped practising their Faith. Today, in a similar way, Protestant missionaries also move among spiritually underfed Russian Orthodox immigrants, promising them free Russian TV and other dubious benefits for a change of religion.

True, in recent years, thanks to the zeal of Archbishop Mark, the ROCOR parish in London has been renewed, both by the building of a small Russian Orthodox church in a suburb to the west of London and also by the arrival of many dozens of new faithful who have emigrated in recent years from Russia. Congregations here regularly number sixty or more. Similarly, the Patriarchal Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens in the prosperous south-west of London, has also been renewed by the emigration of Russians from Russia. Congregations here often number two or three hundred. However, according to many there are now some 160,000 Russians in London!

The short-sighted policy of the Surozh Diocese in the seventies and eighties of deliberately refusing to open other churches in London is now bearing its fruit. Despite the pleadings of many, it was said at that time that no other churches would be opened. Ennismore Gardens would hold the monopoly and the appropriate infrastructure to build up the church in the London area and open other parishes was rejected. And that at a time when it was possible to obtain suitable buildings relatively cheaply. Today, with the London area's astronomical property prices, what was possible then is now virtually impossible. As Metropolitan Kirill rightly says: 'We have neither the personnel nor the finance'.

Most Russians in London today appear to be gathered in the area of Stratford in east London, near the Eurostar Station. Arriving from the Continent by train, here they find bedsits and jobs, legally or illegally, as cleaners or building workers, whatever they can find to escape poverty. Some manage to travel at great expense as far as the ROCOR church in the distant west of London. There they feel at home, finding a church with the same practices as those in Russia, even though it is not Patriarchal in jurisdiction but under ROCOR.

Some manage to travel as far as the Patriarchal Ennismore Gardens Cathedral, but there they find a church with practices that they, like other traditional Russian Orthodox in this country, do not know. Metropolitan Kirill states that these practices are not the result of a deliberate policy to move away from the Russian Tradition, but are due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of 'the soul and problems' of Russian Orthodox faithful. These words echo the experience of many others down the decades, not only of Russians but of others of all nationalities.

Indeed in twenty years little appears to have changed. There must be some who bitterly regret the missed opportunities of the past and the zeal of the faithful which was ignored and despised. In the words of Metropolitan Kirill, the Patriarchal Church can do nothing. Neither can ROCOR, which is doing its utmost to pay off the costs of its new church in the western suburbs. Who will provide for the pastoral needs of 160,000 and also the English Orthodox who are faithful to Russian Orthodoxy in the London area and who cannot be cared for?

In the absence of any help from cash-strapped Church hierarchies, the faithful are left to pray for a miracle. Perhaps someone like the young Siberian orphan, oil tycoon and multi-billionaire, Roman Abramovich could help? This summer he bought Chelsea Football Club in London for £140 million and spent £110 million in four weeks on a few new players. A few million pounds, a month's wage bill at the club, could buy or build one or two or three or more Russian Orthodox churches in east London where the huddled masses of Russians live. It could provide meeting rooms, accommodation for priests, a chapel for English Orthodox. Perhaps a new Kronstadt could be born in the east of London. The bishops and the faithful should perhaps ask him for help.

For over twenty years we have prayed for a miracle for Orthodox London. All we can do is to keep on praying, praying that this pastoral tragedy will not continue for yet another generation, that the spiritual needs of all those faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in London will yet be met.

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