Return to Home Page


On 27 May the historic two-week pilgrimage to Russia of the twenty-strong delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) came to an end. Led by Metropolitan Laurus, the delegation was greeted by Patriarch Alexis of the Patriarchal Church in St Daniel's Monastery and then by the Russian President V. V. Putin at his residence. Photographs show the two Church leaders embracing and ROCOR clergy taking the blessing of the Patriarch. God willing, the negotiations on unity to be conducted by Commissions of both parts of the 'One Russian Church' may in the relatively near future lead to eucharistic unity. Talks begin at the end of June and ROCOR authorities speak of 'the real hope of unity'. As Patriarch Alexis said, although unity in prayer already exists, eucharistic unity is still to be attained.

From the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 onwards, clergy from Russia, though unable to concelebrate, regularly came into the churches of the Western European Diocese of ROCOR, and with the blessing of the Ever-Memorable Archbishop Antony of Geneva, took communion in our altars. A little after this, I think in 1992, I adventurously predicted that the two parts of the Russian Church would be concelebrating 'in ten years time'. This was slightly premature, but perhaps, not by much.

The fact is, that once the Church inside Russia was freed of atheist State persecution and interference, free therefore to disclaim, as mistaken, Sergianist erastianism and proclaim, as saints, the New Martyrs and Confessors, unity between the two parts of the Russian Church would be inevitable. It was apparent from Patriarchal clergy and laity who were able to visit us once the Berlin Wall had fallen, that they were in full agreement with ROCOR as regards the compromises made by the Patriarchal hierarchy who had been hostages to the old Soviet regime. They desired the return of the Patriarchate to Orthodox values, those conserved by ROCOR in freedom.

However, the latest events in Russia are not the end of the story, they are merely the end of a chapter and the beginning of another. The real battle goes on.

The real battle is that age-old battle for the Church, the soul of Orthodoxy, for spiritual integrity and spiritual depth. It is the battle for spiritual and moral authority, the battle of Orthodox Tradition against worldly fashions, against every deviation from the Truth of Christ, against every 'ism'. The real battle is the one which we in the parishes have been conducting the whole time, it is the battle for human souls.

It is the battle against that Old Dragon, Satan, who now wishes to capture human souls beneath the camouflage of the seductions of the 'sophisticated', 'academic' modernism of 'fleshly wisdom'. This removes iconostases, carries out Proskimidias in the middle of churches, shouts out aloud the secret prayers, not of course in liturgical language, but in the language of the street, grants communion without confession, allows women to dress in trousers and without covered head, removes icons, especially of the New Martyrs, allows intercommunion, proclaims reductionism, ecumenism, renovationism, all pure secularism, the removal of all sense of the sacred, the conforming of the Church to the ever old-fashioned fashions of this world.

Fleshly wisdom has forgotten the words of the holy Apostle: To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be (Romans 8, 6-7); and again: For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world (2 Cor 1,12); and again: Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (Colossians 2,18).

At the present time, the real battle is, as it has been for decades, against the old-fashioned vestiges of renovationism (perezhitki obnovlenchestva) within the Russian Church. However, it is not only the battle against secular modernism, but also that against secular nationalism in the life of the Church, wherever it may be, inside Russia or outside Russia. No doubt we shall be hearing the voices of the secularist lobbies in the next few weeks and months who are opposed in one way or another to the Orthodox Tradition.

We will once more hear the voices of those who are against any sort of unity between the two parts of the One Russian Church. For example those within the Patriarchate who condemned their own bishops for canonizing the New Martyrs and Confessors in the Year 2000, for example those attached to right-wing political ideologies who wished to make ROCOR into a political party and a sect.

We will hear the voices of those who prefer the unprincipled, financial, diplomatic disunity and blandishments of the Vatican and the World Council of Churches to Orthodox unity.

We will hear the voices of those are beguiled by a degutted, modernist, ecumenist, new calendarist Orthodoxy, preferring it to the real thing, and they will cite their heroes, the dead heretics, intellectuals and philosophers to justify themselves.

We will hear the voices of those who, both inside Russia and outside Russia, wish to promote the Russian Church as a blindly chauvinist organization, which has no international mission, neither to its own emigrants, neither among other, less strong Local Orthodox Churches, nor to the heterodox world. These are the voices of nationalism, xenophobia and bigotry. This would be to forget the overriding spiritual and moral responsibility that Russian Orthodoxy has, among its own, among the family of Local Orthodox Churches, and in the world at large. This would be to forget the historic and messianic mission of the Russian Church to preach Orthodoxy to the ends of the world in the languages of the peoples of the earth.

Last month The Times of London reported on the huge crush of people at the Russian Patriarchal Cathedral in London on Easter Night, which caused many people to faint and the police to be called. Had a fire started, hundreds would have perished in the disaster waiting to happen. This was nothing to be proud of, rather it was something to be ashamed of.

The fact that there are huge numbers of Russian immigrants in London witnesses to the economic difficulties which Russia is still undergoing. The fact that there are only two relatively small Russian Orthodox churches in London to even attempt to begin to cater to the spiritual needs of tens of thousands of spiritually deprived immigrants witnesses to the inability and disorganization of the Russian Church authorities in London to carry out their pastoral duties successfully, given the lack of infrastructure.

This is the fruit of the Cold War years of the 1970s and 1980s. Then the petitions of the faithful were ignored, then those willing to help in the harvest were rejected, persecuted and exiled, because they did not fit the criteria of the London personality cult. Last year's petition to Moscow for a new church in London, faithful to the Orthodox Tradition, was sadly also ignored. (See our article: 'A Continuing London Russian Orthodox Pastoral Tragedy: Old Problems Surface Anew at the Patriarchal Cathedral', under Events, December 2003).

Now that the outward situation of the two parts of the Russian Church is gradually being normalized, we must focus our attention all the more on the real and continuing inward battle, that of churching the Russian Orthodox masses, of opening churches, teaching all how to behave in church, bringing all to regular confession and communion, teaching all the Orthodox Tradition, and not some emasculated, Westernized surrogate, pseudo-Orthodoxy. It is time to focus on the real tasks and, ever faithful to the spirit of the New Martyrs and Confessors, answer the question whether we really love Christ 'more than these' secular ideologies (John 21,15), and 'feed my sheep' (John 21,17).

Fr Andrew

15/28 May 2004
Leavetaking of the Ascension

to top of page