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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it (Psalm 126,1)

The April Statement of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow concerning the future establishment by the Russian Orthodox Church of a self-governing Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe has aroused great interest among us. It has come three and a half generations after 1917, after a long period of stagnation and frustration on the path towards rebuilding the Orthodox Church in Western Europe. Of course it will not be easy to unite the three basic building blocks of such a Metropolia. These are the three immigrant groups of the Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe, the Muscovite, the Parisian and the Church Outside Russia, together with the native Western Europeans canonically dependent on them.

Since the Patriarch's statement is directly addressed to all churches of the Russian Orthodox Tradition in Western Europe, and therefore to ourselves, we would like to respond. Although this response is written in a constructive spirit, we fully understand that the reflections of a tiny church such as ours are of little importance. The Church is held in trust by Orthodox Bishops who are successors to the Apostles. We owe them obedience, whatever our personal thoughts expressed in our writings since 1974 and now on the Orthodox England and Orthodox Europe website. Nevertheless, it may be that someone will read the thoughts below and find them of interest.

Let us first consider the immigrant groups and some of the practical issues which will inevitably arise in the process of uniting them into a single Metropolitan structure, the basis of a future restored Local Orthodox Church.

The first group consists of the Western European bishops, monasteries and parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate itself. For long these groups remained tiny, with the single exception of the slightly larger group gathered around the personality of the very Parisian Metropolitan Antony Bloom. (His writings, however, have on several occasions been condemned and even burnt within the Moscow Patriarchate inside Russia). It is only with recent immigration into Western Europe from the old Soviet Union that numbers belonging to the Patriarchal Church have increased and the April initiative of Patriarch Alexis has become tenable.

Still today, however, many of the older Russian emigrés remain very suspicious of anything emanating from the Patriarchal Church in Moscow. Indeed, some of them will tell you that this whole latest diplomatic effort of Moscow is simply a ploy to recover nineteenth-century Russian cultural monuments (churches), especially in Germany and France. Having failed to obtain them though past nastiness - by violence, as in the Holy Land, or by the courts, as in Germany - they are now trying to recover them through present 'niceness'. Such scepticism could of course be dismissed as emigré paranoia. Nevertheless, doubts will linger until proofs become visible. Distrust of the Patriarchal Church has accumulated since 1925 and must be dispelled among all groups of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe. As Moscow has learnt through recent events surrounding Bishop Hilarion in its own Sourozh diocese, it cannot rule by top-down decree and diktat in Western Europe, even in its own jurisdiction. The old Soviet Union is gone and buried and its techniques with it. Consent and consultation are words which some in the Patriarchal Church still have to learn.

The second group in Western Europe is the small Paris group. Founded mainly by St Petersburg aristocrats and liberal intellectuals in the 1920's who split themselves off from the rest of the Russian emigration, part of it has for long submerged itself in the self-appointed task of merging Orthodoxy and Western humanism. At one time, even until recently, under the influence of freemasonry and uncanonical practices, the Paris Jurisdiction is now dying out. Nevertheless, it is still present and it is difficult to see to what extent this group will wish to attach itself to Moscow. For the present it is attached to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Will it wish to return to the Mother-Church? And will the Patriarchate of Constantinople wish to release it from a submission which increasingly seems to some like a captivity? These are questions which we cannot answer.

Thirdly, there are the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. This is part of a much larger worldwide Church, grouping the vast majority of the old post-1917 Russian emigration. It may be that its two dioceses in Western Europe, in fact based in Munich and Geneva, would not want to separate from their sister-dioceses in North and South America and Australia. Perhaps Moscow will first have to come to a global settlement for the whole Russian Diaspora and its missions. Perhaps it will first have to set up Metropolias for Australasia (and not just Australia) and, with more difficulty, for the Americas (but more about this below).

There is also the question of the relations between the Church Outside Russia and its fragment inside Russia (known as the 'Free Russian Orthodox Church') and its relations with the Local Orthodox Churches. Since the 1960's, an internal battle has been going on within it. This is between the majority of the Church Outside Russia following in the faithful footsteps of their founder, St Tikhon of Moscow, and their first spiritual leader Metropolitan Antony of Kiev, and those alien to their spirit. This is a battle between those of the Russian Tradition who do not countenance censorious fanaticism, and the 'Grabbites' who attempted the takeover of the Church Outside Russia by right-wing 'Old Calendarist' groups, often not of Russian extraction. These were introduced into the Church by the late Bishop Gregory Grabbe. He died outside the Church Outside Russia in an uncanonical sect that he had founded in Russia against the wishes of many other bishops. Since the 1960's, the activism of tiny 'Grabbite' sectarian groups has too often given the Church Outside Russia a bad name and among the naïve led to the absurd accusation that the Church Outside Russia 'lacks love'.

Whereas until the 1960's the Church Outside Russia was on good terms with other Local Orthodox Churches and regularly concelebrated with them, the help given by such individuals as Bishop Gregory Grabbe to Non-Russian (and later Russian) schismatic groups, has damaged relations with other Local Churches. Meddling in the internal affairs of other Local Churches is uncanonical. It may be that some small groups in the Church Outside Russia would not in any circumstances wish to reunite with the Mother-Church in Moscow, even in self-governing circumstances. Indeed, to the relief but also sadness of many, a few extremists together with the retired Metropolitan Vitaly, have already left to found their own tiny sect, 'The Russian Orthodox Church in Exile'.

However, theirs is not the position of most in the Church Outside Russia (despite the ill-informed beliefs of some), and certainly not the case of ourselves. In this country, we have constantly battled for the firmness and integrity but also openness and compassion of the Russian Orthodox Tradition. This has been against the excesses of poorly educated Russian laity and clergy and undiscerning High Anglican converts, all of 'Grabbite' background.

On top of these issues, there are other, more general issues, which will have to be dealt with if an Orthodox Western European Metropolia is to established.

Firstly, such a Metropolia must not repeat the errors of the America Metropolia which in 1970 was given the status, by a then Soviet Moscow, of 'OCA', or 'Orthodox Church in America'. This was not recognized by other Orthodox because of its Cold War politicking with Moscow. In one sense indeed it was not even recognized by Moscow itself, which continued to maintain a large number of parishes in the Americas under its own jurisdiction! From this we can learn that politics will bring forth no fruit in the form of an authentic Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe.

This OCA group created for itself a huge number of problems by behaving without consultation. For instance, it forced the Catholic calendar on all its parishes outside Alaska, calling it the 'corrected Julian' (sic!) calendar. Many of its finest and largest parishes left it. Many others would have gone, except for the fact that they would not have been able to take their church buildings with them. Certain OCA parishes continued with other 'reforms', discouraging monasticism (what Orthodox monastic community would want to be on the Catholic calendar?!), campaigning against fasting, the reading of the Eucharistic Canon and secret prayers secretly, the use of traditional liturgical language and imposing other modernist liturgical practices which have no foundation in the Orthodox Tradition.

In fact, the undoing of the OCA in its present Cold War form and the establishment of an 'Orthodox Church of All the Americas' (OCAA), with room for all those of Russian Orthodox Tradition in North and Latin America, Old Calendar and even New Calendar, chosen in freedom, is an issue that still faces the post-Cold War Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, it will also have to face the situation in Australasia.

From this we can learn that a Western European Metropolia must be established freely. Nobody must be forced into compromises with their Faith. For example, if Moscow were to fill the Metropolia with bishops not accepted by the people, the results would be disastrous. Bishops cannot be imposed, there must be consultation. This is the meaning of self-governing. Again, suppose modernist practices were aggressively imposed, suppose candidates put forward for ordination by normal Orthodox parishes were not ordained, chaos would ensue. Here it is clear that Moscow has to give guarantees to the pious faithful, if it is to earn the trust of the faithful; otherwise many will ask for extra-Metropolitan, stavropegic status, as already in Dublin and Manchester in the Sourozh Diocese. That would defeat the whole point of the Metropolia. It has to guarantee the same faith for Orthodox in Western Europe as for those in Russia. If something is considered to be heretical in Russia, you should not expect to be able to impose that heresy in Western Europe.

Secondly, there is the question of the relations of a Metropolia of the Russian Orthodox Tradition with other Orthodox in Western Europe, especially many of Greek descent. This should not present a problem. Presumably, such Orthodox would wish to remain attached to their own Churches, be they Constantinople, Bucharest, Belgrade, Sofia and so on. But in order to avoid the uneasy situation of the OCA and other Orthodox jurisdictions in the USA, it should be made clear from the beginning that the Metropolia of Western Europe would be only for those of Russian background and for those Western Europeans who wish to confess the Orthodox Faith of the Russian Tradition, albeit in their own language and venerating their own native saints. Those who wish to remain inside 'jurisdictions', de facto extensions of their Balkan homelands, should be free to do so.

Thirdly, there is the question of the relations of a Metropolia with Non-Orthodox Christians. For example, at present the Patriarchal Bishop in Paris, Archbishop Innocent, bears the title 'of Cherson'. The Metropolitan in London has the title 'of Sourozh'. This 'Black Seaism', these Roman-Catholic style fictitious titles, must be scrapped. If we are truly to be the restoration of the Local Orthodox Church in Western Europe, then it is time to be just that - local! Roman Catholic and Anglican Bishops may not like this, but when an Orthodox Bishop lives in London and deals with Londoners, then he is the Orthodox Bishop of London, not the Bishop of a disappeared town on the Black Sea.

Such a decisive move would at the same time put ecumenism into a balanced perspective, avoiding the excesses of both pro-ecumenical and anti-ecumenical extremists. It would tell Non-Orthodox that although we do not proselytize (as they do), we are here, we are local, we are staying, we have our own identity, our own structure, our own native Church. It would put an end to the old inferiority complex of the immigrant, ever dependent on the politics of foreign countries and their political exiles and economic refugees. It might also do something for those in Eastern Europe who eye post-Orthodox Western European religions like Catholicism and Protestantism as superior. At present they have the choice of being Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant. Let the same choice exist in what is supposed to be the freedom-loving West. When Eastern Europeans realize that Western people too are Orthodox in their own Local Church, perhaps their own inferiority complex will disappear.

Finally, there is in the Patriarch's statement the apparent separation of Non-Eastern Europe into two parts, Western and Central Europe. (Eastern Europe already has its Local Orthodox Churches). Though geographically precise, this seems culturally unrealistic and fails to understand what 'Western' really means. Although Ireland and Hungary (like Sweden and Sardinia) are in different geographical parts of Europe, they all share the same cultural background, which originated in Western Europe. Although Hungary is in Central Europe, it is still one of the 'Western Lands'. It would surely be more reasonable to divide Western and Central Europe into the mainly Germanic (and majority Protestant) North and the mainly Latin (and majority Roman Catholic) South of Western Europe. This is already more or less the case of the two dioceses of the Church Outside Russia.

For example, if Archbishop Innocent were to be elected Metropolitan of 'The Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe', he would presumably have the title 'of Rome and the Western Lands' (Rome being the historic centre of Western Orthodoxy). Under him, there could be Archbishops for the Archdioceses of North-Western and South-Western Europe. These could be, for instance, Archbishop Mark (Arndt) for North-Western Europe (this would reassure those belonging at present to the Church Outside Russia). Then there could be Archbishop Michael (Storozhenko) for South-Western Europe (this would reassure those of the Paris Jurisdiction). Under these Archbishops, themselves under the Metropolitan, there could be a number of other Archbishops and Bishops:

In the Archdiocese of North-Western Europe, for example:

Mark, Archbishop of Munich and North-Western Europe, specifically responsible for western Germany and Luxembourg.

Theophan, Bishop of Berlin and eastern Germany.

Agapit, Bishop of Vienna, Austria and German Switzerland.

Anatoly, Archbishop of London and the British Isles (helped by his vicar Bishop Basil of Oxford).

Gabriel, Bishop of the Hague, Holland and Flemish Belgium.

Longin, Bishop of Stockholm and Scandinavia.

In the Archdiocese of South-Western Europe, for example:

Innocent, Metropolitan of Rome and the Western Lands.

Michael, Archbishop of Paris and South-Western Europe, specifically responsible for France.

Ambrose, Bishop of Geneva and French and Italian Switzerland.

Simon, Archbishop of Brussels and French Belgium.

Paul, Bishop of Budapest and Hungary.

A Bishop of Madrid to be appointed for Spain and Portugal.

A Bishop of Nice to be appointed as vicar for the south of France.

This would create a total of fourteen bishops including Metropolitan Innocent, seven in each Archdiocese of the Metropolia, a number of bishops much higher than the total number in many Local Churches, for instance in the OCA, and in the Local Orthodox Churches in Poland, Finland and Czechia and Slovakia. This is certainly enough Bishops from whom to create a Synod. Under them could be created Deaneries to look after Orthodox of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Of course, it may be that none of the above will ever happen, or that all will happen in a completely different way. The actual shape of things to come is quite unknown. Man proposes, but God disposes. We must remain open to all possibilities, attempting always to do God's Will and not imposing our own ideas in the stead of His Will. We must all pray that through His Bishops His will may be done in the days ahead. Passion Week lies before us.

Fr Andrew Phillips,

St Joseph the Hymnographer
4/17 April 2003

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