The Orthodox West

A VISION FOR THE ORTHODOX CHURCHES OF WESTERN EUROPE

The Twentieth Century in particular has seen decade after decade of immigration to Western Europe from the contemporary homelands of Orthodox Christianity, from Russia, the Balkans and the Near and Middle East. At the same time there has taken place the conversion of small numbers of Western Europeans to the Orthodox Christian Faith. As a result, there are now not insignificant groups of Orthodox Christians of diverse background in Western European countries. These facts raise many questions.

What might be the future in the Twenty-First Century of those groups? Will they remain attached to foreign homelands and the linguistic, political and regional divisions of those lands? Will number of converts and their non-convert descendants be content to remain in the dioceses of culturally and linguistically foreign Churches? What will happen to immigrant groups within a generation of the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the generation of gerontocrats who ran the Communist Empire have died out and are replaced by young Western-style technocrats? What will happen as the old State Church mentalities of Eastern Europe are offloaded with the new globalised mentalities of the Internet generation?

Nobody can answer such questions with any degree of assurance, but we could perhaps at least express some idea of what might be desirable, but to do that we must start off from reality.

Firstly, let no mistake be made, there are large numbers of immigrants who do not wish for any change to the present situation. In other words they are happy to live in Western Europe in a mental and ecclesiastical extension of their homelands. The fact that as a result there are, contrary to the canons, several Orthodox bishops, admittedly of different nationalities, on the same territory, is of no significance to them. Indeed official Church hierarchies have actually encouraged this uncanonical development by giving their bishops titles of disappeared sees in foreign countries. For example, in this country the Greek Archbishop has taken the title of a village in Turkey and the Russian Patriarchal Metropolitan that of a ruined town on the Black Sea coast, rather than take the title 'of London'. In other words, the sense of ethnic identity and tribal loyalty of many remains strong. (And it must be said that that is not always a bad thing). However, it does mean that the numbers of those who consciously wish to see local and self-governing Orthodox Churches develop in Western Europe are still relatively small.

Secondly, we must recognise that Western Europe itself is by no means homogenous. There runs through it a North-South fault-line which by and large separates the Germanic and Protestant North from the Latin and Roman Catholic South. Mentalities are not the same to either side of that line. For instance, the North is more liberal, but paradoxically more rigid, the South more flexible but paradoxically less open to Orthodoxy. In addition to this, despite the influx of Greeks and Cypriots, the North of Western Europe has been culturally affected more by the settlement of Russian Orthodox refugees, the South more by the settlement of the Greeks.

As a result of these factors, there have been more converts in the North of Western Europe than in the South. Despite the ineffectual intellectualising of some Russians, the attraction of converts in the North has been overwhelmingly to the various parts of the Russian Church or even to Russian practices, even if under the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Peoples here are more attracted to the more European mentalities of Russian Orthodoxy than the Mediterranean and Oriental ways of Greek Orthodoxy.

In the South of Western Europe, however, a different situation has developed. Here most immigrants have come from Greece. Nevertheless, in their political pact with the Vatican, the Patriarchate of Constantinople responsible for these immigrants agreed not to witness to Orthodox Christianity in those predominantly Roman Catholic countries of south-western Europe. Thus those who wished to become Orthodox in these areas were forced to become Orthodox in Greek Old Calendarist groups, outside the control of both Constantinople and the Vatican. This situation was then further complicated by the realisation of those convert groups that they had become members of sects. Thus, one after another, most of these groups, whether in Portugal and Spain, or in Catalonia and south-western France, or in Italy, have left Old Calendarism and joined Slav Churches, respectively the Polish, Serbian and Russian Churches.

From this ethnic, political and jurisdictional chaos, how can any semblance of order evolve?

It would seem to the present writer that a starting point for those who wish to belong to future Orthodox Churches of Western Europe would be the following: to group themselves into Deaneries whose shape would correspond to the linguistic, geographical, historical, cultural and national realities of Western Europe. (This presumes, of course, that such Orthodox, whatever their background, convert or immigrant, are sufficiently numerous to be able to persuade canonical Orthodox bishops to agree to the establishment of such Deaneries!)

In such a scenario, the territory of Western Europe could first be divided into two Dioceses comprising its two racial and cultural components - Germanic North and Latin South. These two Dioceses could be structured into a pattern of Deaneries as follows:

1) The Diocese of North-Western Europe

This part of Western Europe can be subdivided into three separate cultural areas:

a) A Deanery of the Isles. This would cover the whole of the British Isles, with a Metropolitan base presumably in a historic centre such as York, the Imperial City of Constantine.

b) A Deanery of Germania. This would cover Germany, Austria, Holland, Luxembourg and much of Alsace, Switzerland and Belgium, with a Metropolitan See in some historic Patristic centre such as Trier, the City of St Athanasius the Great.

c) A Deanery of Scandinavia. This would cover Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a base perhaps in Roskilde, where the Orthodox Faith entered into Scandinavian territorial consciousness.

2) The Diocese of South-Western Europe

This part of Western Europe can also be subdivided into three separate cultural areas:

a) A Deanery of Gallia. This would comprise France (including Brittany, Occitania, Provence and French-speaking Alsace), and also French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland, with a base perhaps in the historic Orthodox Patristic Metropolitan See of Lyons.

b) A Deanery of Iberia. This would comprise Spain (including all the Basque Country on both sides of the Franco-Spanish border, Catalonia and Galicia) and Portugal, with a base in a historic Apostolic centre, for example, Santiago de Compostela.

c) A Deanery of Italia. This would comprise Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Italian-speaking Switzerland, with its centre in the Apostolic Orthodox See of Rome.

If ever this vision came to pass, these two Dioceses of Western Europe, North and South, could become Archdioceses and their six Deaneries, Dioceses.

Eventually the six Dioceses would then themselves become Archdioceses with their own internal regional dioceses.

In turn these six Archdioceses would then become self-governing regional Orthodox Churches. Thus Western Europe would become home to no fewer than six regional Orthodox Churches. These Churches would not be Churches in a place (implying that they were foreign churches imposed on the places without being acculturated), rather they would be Churches of a place:

The Church of the Isles.
The Church of Germania.
The Church of Scandinavia.
The Church of Gallia.
The Church of Iberia.
The Church of Italia.

Such a division of Western Europe into regional Churches could avoid the monolithic temptations of a sole centre which led in history to the pride of the Roman See and its falling away from the Orthodox Faith. At the same time, however, the existence of regional Churches would also avoid the balkanised nationalism to be found in 'local' national Churches. Thus a 'Church of the Isles' could not fall victim to, say, English or Irish nationalism, for both nationalities, together with the Scottish and the Welsh, would be 'conjoined' in one 'confederal' regional Orthodox Church. This is why Metropolitan centres should not be in secular capitals but in historic Orthodox centres, spiritual capitals - York, Trier, Roskilde, Lyons, Santiago and Rome. This would avoid the danger implied in such terms as 'Russian Orthodox' (centred in the secular capital of Moscow) and 'Greek Orthodox' (centred in the secular capital of Athens), when what is really meant is 'The Church of Russia' and 'The Church of the Hellenes'.

Perhaps some, on reading this, will grow excited, while others will condemn it as fantasy. It has to be said that the first are wrong, because the spirit of Orthodox Christianity is one of sobriety and not excitement. And it must be said that the others may be right. For it we are honest, we are still a century or more away from any of this. And if the present situation of human degeneration is anything to go by, the world and Western Europe with it, may not even last until the Twenty-Second Century. And however it may be, we personally will not last until the Twenty-Second Century.

Some may agree that indeed we will not be here to see this Vision made reality, but that we are working for our children and our children's children. To those, however, I would say this: let us first of all simply work for our own salvation - for if we do not save ourselves, how can we possibly say that we are working for our children and our children's children? If we cannot save ourselves, how will others be saved around us?

First things first - for all the rest will only come to pass if it is God's Will. For this after all is the essence of Vision - to see what is God's Will and do it.

Translated from the consultative paper 'L'Eglise Orthodoxe de L'Europe Occidentale - Vision ou RÍve' by Deacon Andrew Phillips, Paris, April 1988, updated March 2000.

 

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