UPDATE ON A UNITED RUSSIAN ORTHODOX
METROPOLIA IN WESTERN EUROPE:
Since the April statement of Patriarch Alexis II, proposing a united Russian Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe, various developments have taken place.
First of all, on 1 May elections took place for the new Archbishop of the Paris Russian Exarchate (Patriarchate of Constantinople). Their new Archbishop is Gabriel of Comana, the candidate of the Fraternite Orthodoxe. This association is the heir to the modernist and pro-Greek ideology of the liberal intellectuals who founded the Exarchate in 1925, when they split from the Church Outside Russia. The result of this election came as a shock to many and revealed the serious divisions in the Exarchate between those who wish to stay within the Patriarchate of Constantinople and those who wish to see the group return to its roots within the Russian Church. The latter traditional, pro-Russian group includes Bishop Michael (Storozhenko) and many other senior clergy and laity.
It seems inconceivable that no members of this group would wish return to the Russian Church in a Western Metropolia. On the other hand, the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself would probably be reluctant to give canonical releases to parishes and clergy bound for Moscow. However, it also seems inconceivable that the Russian Church would not wish to recover the nineteenth-century Russian churches in Paris, Nice and elsewhere, which it regards as part of the Russian cultural and spiritual heritage in France. One wonders if the Russian government may not intervene at this point, especially since the Paris Russian Cathedral actually belongs to the Paris City Authorities and not to the Exarchate.
As regards the Patriarchate of Moscow itself, various developments have taken place, consistent with its past policies of uniting Russian Orthodox outside Russia. For example, a Metropolitan District is now being set up for the Dioceses of Orthodox of the Russian Tradition in Kazakhstan. It seems clear that the Patriarchal Church intends to do the same in other territories, whether in Western Europe or elsewhere. The keyword of the Patriarchate is unity with local autonomy - which is one of the reasons why it is so hostile to the current divisive, proselytising movement of the Vatican in the territories of the former Soviet Union.
As regards specific European news of the Patriarchate, Bishop Hilarion is to leave his office in Brussels where he was in charge of representing the Patriarchate at the EU. He has been appointed Bishop of Vienna and Budapest, replacing Bishop Paul, who is to return to Russia.
Through the Department for External Relations of the Patriarchate a critique of the Draft Preamble to the EU Constitution has been issued. Quite rightly pointing out its non-Christian and even anti-Christian nature, the critique points out the humanist attitudes of this Preamble. The whole project, it suggests, is based on the pagan philosophy of the Roman Empire and the neo-pagan 'Enlightenment' of the eighteenth century and thereafter. No surprises here, but at least an Orthodox Church has had the courage, officially, to tell the truth.
Finally, the Patriarchate continues to open new parishes throughout Western Europe, from Germany to the Canaries, from Porto in Portugal to Bordeaux in France. If this movement continues, the number of Patriarchal parishes in Western Europe may soon rival that of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia (ROCOR).
As regards the standpoint of the Church Outside Russia, ROCOR, on the proposal for a Metropolia in Western Europe, the bishops have issued a very interesting response, which rises to the challenge of the Patriarchate.
Firstly, the ROCOR bishops are concerned about the ambiguities of the Patriarch's proposal. Does it have the authority only of the Patriarch, or does it have the authority of the Patriarchal Synod of Bishops? What is the role of the External Affairs Department of the Patriarchate, run by the influential Metropolitan Kirill? Given the Patriarch's failing health, is this all part of a power struggle for the succession? Also, we might add from ourselves, queries have been raised locally about the role in the organization of a Metropolia of the ailing and sometimes controversial Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh. The senior bishop of the Patriarchate, he will be ninety years old next year. Here there are many questions which must be cleared up.
Then there is the fundamental flaw in the Patriarch's proposal. This is that he does not seem to realize that the Western European Diocese on ROCOR is only one of two such dioceses in Western Europe, and that these themselves are only part of a worldwide Church which groups the vast majority of the post-1917 Russian Orthodox emigration. (Of course, cynics say that he realizes this perfectly well, but that the whole affair is merely a ploy to 'divide and rule'. This is the attitude taken by many hostile to the Russian Church in the Paris Exarchate). Also, why was the proposal only sent by fax and sent only to Bishop Ambrose of Geneva and not to Metropolitan Laurus, the head of ROCOR, or even to Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain?
The ROCOR bishops have therefore called for the holding of an All-Russian Council. This would finally lay to rest the difficulties caused in the twentieth-century Russian Church by the political manipulations, not of émigrés, but of the Patriarchal Church by the Soviet State, which introduced politics into Church life.
As the ROCOR bishops rightly state, each part of the Russian Church obviously recognizes the sacraments of the other. There is no question here of one part or the other not having valid sacraments. The problem is one of authority, not of sacramental validity. As we predicted in April, there must be a global settlement of the problems within the whole Russian Church before we can proceed to the search for unity in Western Europe alone.
We now await the Patriarchal response to these events and reactions, especially to the ROCOR letter, in the hope that the long-awaited All-Russian Council will take place in the near future. We patiently await the decisions of our respective bishops.
May all be according to the Will of God!
Fr Andrew Phillips