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Sourozh: Russian traditions without the Russian Orthodox Faith

The recent events in the Sourozh Diocese of the Russian Patriarchal Church in Great Britain, which have led to a small but leading part of it to attempt to split from the Russian Church, have surprised no-one here.

Familiar with the situation and individuals there since 1975, who long ago accused us of being ‘too Orthodox’, we conclude that the small group of Sourozh clergy and laity which is now trying to head for the Paris Exarchate under Constantinople, is simply returning to its roots in Parisian modernism. Having studied at the St Sergius Institute over twenty-five years ago and having lived in Russian Orthodox Paris for fifteen years, I can confirm that the mentalities are identical. Indeed, the only remarkable thing is that the attempted split from the Russian Church by Sourozh did not take place earlier.

The present Paris Exarchate leadership, with whom we are also familiar, reminds us of the anti-Russian and modernist leadership active there before Archbishop Sergius. The recent construction of a wooden Orthodox chapel in the French city of Nantes with an open iconostasis, in true renovationist style, with a pseudo-historical justification by one issued from a French sect, the scandals in Nice and Biarritz, the apparent refusal of the leadership to permit concelebration between its clergy and that of the Russian Patriarchate, mean that this Exarchate is a natural home to the London-Oxford Sourozh modernists.

The Paris Exarchate, in reality only a few hundred strong and dependent on a few families and intellectuals, resembles strangely the London-Oxford Sourozh group. Thus, the former calls itself an Exarchate of ‘the Russian Tradition’. With the many new calendar communities of both this Exarchate and the Sourozh Diocese, continual calls for the new Paschalia (reprinted naturally in the magazine ‘Sourozh’), communion without confession, masonic handshakes in churches, rampant ecumenism and liberalism, ordinations of ill-prepared, sometimes divorced men, sometimes married to Non-Orthodox, Proskomidia carried out in the middle of the church, abbreviation of services and regular cases of intercommunion, ignorance of Russian calendar, liturgical custom and vestments, unheadscarfed women, one wonders what ‘Russian Tradition’ the Paris Exarchate and Sourozh Diocese are actually talking about. Little wonder that Russians who frequent its churches or those of the ‘Sourozh Diocese’, have long petitioned for them to be reformed. They join the many Russians, English and French people alike who since the 1960s, and before, have been rejected by them and hounded out of the Church for being ‘too Orthodox’ i.e. normal.

One of the Sourozh (and Parisian) myths is that this split is ethnic, that it is native people versus new Russians. This is nonsense. The split is between those who wish to practise the Russian Orthodox Faith, regardless of their nationality or preferred language of worship or even beloved saints, and those who, quite simply, do not love the Russian Orthodox Tradition. The latter want to combine contemporary Western humanism with a form of Russian Orthodoxy. It does not work. Thus, at present they refuse the discipline of the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia, as it is now rapidly being restored after three generations of militant atheism, just as they refused in the past the discipline of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).

There is no doubt at all that the attempted coup of Sourozh was timed to coincide with the opening of the Fourth Council of ROCOR, as it and the Patriarchate head swiftly towards full communion with one another, to take place ‘in the nearest future’ as one of the ROCOR Archbishops has said. As the old Communist-inspired wounds of the Russian Church are healed, what better time to inflict new ones? If the evil one cannot win through Bolshevism, let him try with another form of Western humanism.

The Orthodox world of the diaspora is taking on new structures, following the fall of Communism. Indeed, it seems that two forms of Orthodoxy have long been taking shape in the West. On the one hand, there is that form which is spread across various jurisdictions, which although keeping an outward resemblance to Orthodoxy, similar to Uniatism (‘Eastern-rite Anglicanism’), with even a form of Russian singing, is actually a degutted variety. It will attract Non-Orthodox in numbers – but they will not become Orthodox in it - until they move away from its essence - to the essence of Orthodoxy. On the other hand, there is the real thing, faithful to the Tradition, which is now being led by far the largest and by far the most multinational and missionary-minded local Orthodox Church, centred firstly in Moscow and secondly in New York.

The future will tell us which tendency will win out in this world: Orthodoxy, that is, the Russian Tradition with the Russian Orthodox Faith, or the degutted variety, Russian traditions without the Russian Orthodox Faith.

Fr Andrew

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