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Russian Orthodox Diplomacy Continues: Schizophrenia in Paris

His Holiness Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and all the Russias has stressed the importance of spiritual dialogue between Russia and Greece in order to offer a united defence of the Orthodox foundations of their two cultures. ‘In an age of globalisation we should all look to the survival of the values and moral fibre of our (Orthodox) civilisation. In order to do so, we should strengthen co-operation among the various Orthodox countries’, he said on Tuesday at a meeting in Moscow with the debt-bound Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou. The stricken Greek economy is being supported by the Russia Federation.

Patriarch Kyrill added that the Russian Church is ‘very pleased’ at the recent actions of the Greek government to forbid the removal of icons from courtrooms and oppose the abolition of legal oaths taken on the Gospels. In this regard His Holiness mentioned the decision of the Strasbourg Court to ban crucifixes in Italian schools and expressed his concern at the fact that even the public mention of Christian values is banned in many European countries. ‘We need to ensure that these moral values remain vibrant in the lives of our peoples’, he said to the Greek Premier.

In response to Western political correctness, now largely adopted by Protestant groups, Patriarch Kyrill has also stated categorically that it is impossible to ‘reform’ the moral principles and long-held values of Christianity. ‘The Orthodox Church in the 21st century is the same Church as it was in the first centuries of Christianity’, he said at a meeting with students on 4 March. ‘By her very nature, the Church is conservative. She received the faith from the Apostles, and that faith cannot be changed’.

His Holiness added that for him the Reformation in the West ‘started as an attempt to update the message of Christianity, to clear layers of accumulated incrustations from it… that was correct. However, what was wrong was that it encroached on the essence of the Faith, which must be conserved in all circumstances’. He said that he believed that Protestantism had changed the very essence of the Gospel message, tailoring it to the philosophy of modernity. He cited an example of following such fashionable and ephemeral trends: ‘The female priesthood is a result of aping feminism. Today, they wish to ‘reform’ the moral principles of Christianity’. Patriarch Kyrill said that this was evident in the blessing of homosexual ‘marriages’ and in the promotion of abortion. ‘If the Church loses its strength, it is like the salt losing its savour… it is thrown out’.

The Patriarch also spoke of what he saw happening to Anglicanism in the UK. ‘There is a terrible crisis in the Church of England, one sees empty churches. Many Anglicans have converted to Catholicism and some are looking at the Orthodox Faith’. The Patriarch’s words are reflected in the dire situation in Germany with the recently-appointed head of the German Evangelical Church, its first ever female leader. There Bishop Margot Kaessman, a divorced mother of four, has had to resign following a drink-driving arrest, when she was found to be three times over the limit.

In Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk has just returned from accompanying President Dimitry Medvedev on his high-profile official visit to Paris. The Metropolitan commented on dialogues with such Protestant organisations as the German Evangelicals and the Anglicans, saying that with them, ‘We must ask a question directly… what is the point of dialogue, if it does not bring us closer to each other?’ In the same interview with the Interfax Agency, he also spoke of his strongest impression on the trip to Paris. He said, ‘this came during the visit by the President and his wife to Notre Dame and their veneration of the Saviour’s crown of thorns in the main sanctuary of the Cathedral. The last Russian head of state to visit Notre Dame was St Nicholas the Tsar. Dimitry Anatolievich entered the Cathedral to the same music that the organist played during the visit of the last Russian Tsar in 1896’.

The Metropolitan was asked about meetings with French officials to discuss details of the project to build the Russian Cathedral complex on the central Paris site recently acquired by Russia. He replied that the project was mentioned, in particular in a conversation between Dimitry Anatolievich and the Mayor of Paris, and he assumed that the building of the new Cathedral would begin in 2012.

He also spoke of his profound regret at the actions of the Paris Exarchate ‘of the Russian Tradition’. Although the Metropolitan had been looking forward to serving in the Russian Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky on Rue Daru, which the Exarchate occupies, at the invitation of its head Archbishop Gabriel, this had not been possible. A week before the appointed time, he had received a letter from Archbishop Gabriel informing him that his visit had to be postponed ‘until better times’. Archbishop Gabriel had referred to the decision of a French court to transfer the Cathedral and property in Nice in to the Russian Federation.

The Metropolitan commented that this was ‘a court decision’ and ‘a property dispute’. It should not affect Church relations. He added that, ‘The Russian Imperial Family built the Cathedral and the court recognised that the Russian Federation is the successor to the Russian Empire. Therefore, the Russian Federation owns the Cathedral and the surrounding property and the French court decision confirmed this. This decision in no way infringes on the rights of parishioners who are currently worshipping at the Cathedral. The Russian government formally proposed that the present parish, which is under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, could continue to use the Cathedral. However, the Parish Council rejected this proposal, insisting that in addition to usage rights the parish should have ownership rights of the building and adjoining property’.

Metropolitan Hilarion expressed his condolences on the death of Lydia Plas. She was the 76-year-old parishioner of St Nicholas Cathedral in Nice, who publicly complained about the blatant Russophobia of the authorities at the Nice Cathedral and in the Exarchate as a whole. As a result, she was refused absolution at the Nice Cathedral by the priest, Fr Jean Geit, and in 2008 barred from holy communion by Archbishop Gabriel, the head of the Paris Jurisdiction. Deprived of the sacraments, a lifelong Christian was thus expelled in a most unChristian way, all for telling the Truth.

Metropolitan Hilarion has written to her son, saying that, ‘My sense of mourning on the loss of your close relative was intensified by the fact that Lydia Fyodorovna was barred from communion of the Holy Mysteries. She suffered this unwarranted and merciless judgement due to her honest and open stance in defence of the unity of Russian Orthodoxy’. As Metropolitan Hilarion pointed out, Mme Plas had worked hard for many years to look after ‘the remarkable Russian Church in Nice’. He went on to say, ‘I shall raise up prayers for the repose of the soul of the deceased handmaiden of God Lydia, for I firmly believe that the All-Merciful God will take her with love to her heavenly abode and grant her everlasting glory in His eternal kingdom’.

Meanwhile, it has been announced in Moscow that the Russian government is to spend over half a million euros in Paris on establishing a centre for the history of the Russian emigration. This will be set up at the Russian old people’s home outside the Russian cemetery at Ste Genevieve des Bois to the south of Paris.

Regrettably, we have to conclude that the Paris Exarchate is now formally in schism with the Russian Orthodox Church, three-quarters of World Orthodoxy. It comes as no surprise. It happened to us in the Paris-dominated Sourozh jurisdiction in England in the early 1980s and again in the Paris jurisdiction in Paris in the late 1980s. Out telling of truth is the thing most detested by those who have built their lives on delusions. The excommunication of lifelong faithful such as Madame Plas, as many, many others in the past in France, England and the USA, proves once again that modernist groups have no tolerance and no place for any of us, whatever nationality we may be, who are faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition.

If the tiny Paris jurisdiction is frightened of the Russian Orthodox Church’s links with the Russian State, then all it has to do is join the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. This is the self-governing (i.e. autonomous) multinational and multilingual part of the Russian Orthodox Church, with 400 Russian Orthodox monasteries and parishes outside Russia, canonically recognised as such by all the Local Orthodox Churches, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

We cannot help recalling the recent words of Fr Placide Deseille about what the late Patriarch Dimitrios of the Patriarchate of Constantinople wanted, once the Russian Church inside Russia was free. This was that the Paris Exarchate return to its Mother-Church. That return is now long overdue. How is it possible for the Paris Exarchate, which says that it follows ‘the Russian Tradition’, to continue in teenage revolt against its own spiritual roots? It seems that reality has now put the Paris Exarchate before its own crisis of self-identity. Put simply, you cannot follow the authentic Russian Orthodox Faith and Tradition, when you are not part of the Russian Orthodox Church, worse still, when you refuse to concelebrate with it. To claim that you are ‘of the Russian Tradition’ when you are obviously not, is either to lack seriousness in your Faith or else to be in a state akin to schizophrenia.

It seems that make or break time is fast approaching for the Paris Exarchate. May the spirit of my old teacher, the ever-memorable Protopresbyter Alexis Kniazev of the St Sergius Church and Theological Institute in Paris, be heard.

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