The reposed Patriarch Alexei
Back in 2003, the now reposed Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and All Russia addressed this open letter to some of the bishops the Russian church in Western Europe. In it he calls for a regularisation of the Russian Orthodox presence in this part of the world. At the moment, we have dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Chuch Abroad, and the Paris Exarchate under the Ecumenical Patriarchate for churches of Russian tradition, all overlapping each other - not to mention two bishops of Berlin!
Much of the irregularity is the direct result of the actions and principles of the godless Soviet state but that is now in the past, and today we are left with the business of tidying up the administrative mess for the wellbeing and salvation of the Orthodox Christian people. Eventually, we need to look at the bigger picture of sorting out the canonical scandal of overlapping jurisdictions so that we can have a single, united Orthodox Church in this part of the world, whether it be in Great Britain or more widely in Western Europe. However, that will not happen until the jurisdictions sort out the internal disorganisation within their own respective structures. I think that we have become so accustomed to this situation that we often forget that it is highly irregular and we fail to realise the image that it creates in the minds of those who observe us, for such an arrangement is traditionally the result of schism and heresy. People see us and they perceive division where there is none. Although we know better, we cannot expect non-Orthodox people to have an intimate knowledge of the inner-workings of Orthodoxy on first encountering us. The onus is on us to tidy up the mess.
For my part, I welcome the Western European metropolis. I am delighted that the Russian church is now once again united in full canonical communion and hope that it can now be normalised. If this metropolis does come to be, it will incorporate the monasteries and parishes that are currently in the ROCOR dioceses of Germany, Great Britain & Ireland, and Western Europe, and the MP Diocese of Sourozh, along with their presence on the European mainland. Presumably, if the Ecumenical Patriarchate is amenable to this, those parishes and clergy of their Paris Exarchate who wished would also be welcome to join, thereby returning to the Russian church.
In the words of the Patriarch himself:
We hope that an autonomous Metropolia, uniting all the faithful of the Russian Orthodox tradition in the countries of Western Europe, will serve, at a time pleasing to God, as the foundation for the future canonical establishment of a multinational Local Orthodox Church of Western Europe, to be built in a spirit of conciliarity by all the Orthodox faithful living in those countries.
In a spirit of love I call upon you all, dear Bishops, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, to labour in the great work of healing the painful divisions of the Russian diaspora. May the God of love and peace bless your efforts.
If this does go ahead, it will be a great step towards moving towards a single local and canonically regular Orthodox church in our part of the world. The benefits of this would be immeasurable. Firstly, it would restore canonical harmony to Orthodoxy in Western Europe for the first time in centuries. This would make more visible the loving communion that the Church is. It would better place us to pool our resources and combine our efforts at mission, restoring the ancient Orthodox Faith of Britain to its people, whose heritage it rightly is, bringing them to the fullnes of life in Christ. It would do away with the common misconception that we are fragmented and divided due to the fact that a different bishop has jurisdiction depending on which parish you happen to go to. All of these things would be nothing but good.
The ground is fertile for the beginnings of such a venture, and through prayer and faith, it is possible. The Russian church is once again at unity within itself. The proposed Russian metropolis would map almost directly onto the territory currently covered by the Antiochian Archdiocese of Western Europe, already known and respected for its missionary work. Relations between Russia and Antioch are traditionally very good, and it would be splendid if the churches could work together in this way. The Serbian and Georgian presence in that territory could later become a part of this if they so wished. And who knows? There may even be a possibility of inclusion of the unfairly much-maligned Milan Synod. The possibilities are there and, if it God's will, it can and must happen.
His Eminence, Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany, and Great Britain
My own bishop has spoken on this subject fairly recently, seeing it as a good thing. Speaking to Interfax in January of this year, he said:
It seems to me that sooner or later we will have to take up the problem of establishing a metropolitan district in Western Europe.
I agree with him entirely and pray for the day when this comes to fruition.
So what do we do to restore oneness of life, communion, and harmony to the Orthodox Church in this part of the world? We need to speak to our priests, speak to our bishops, and let them know that we, the faithful on the ground, desire this. We need to build friendships with our brothers and sisters in other Orthodox churches, visit their churches and get to know them. We need to support them in any missionary efforts and special occasions in the lives of their parishes, and invite them to share in ours. We need to organise pilgrimages with them to the shrines and holy places of this land, where the Saints walked, and lived, and worked out their salvation, and we need to pray, with them, to these very same Saints, asking their intercession for the blessing of the all-holy Trinity on our life and work in this country today. Eventually, we shall begin to operate at the most fundamental level as a single church and, when this is ratified in council, it will merely serve to regularise a situation that will already have existed for some time.
O Thou Who hast bestowed upon us these common and concordant prayers, and Who hast promised that when two or three are agreed in thy name Thou wouldst grant their requests: do Thou Thyself now fulfil the requests of thy servants to their profit, granting us in this present age the knowledge of thy Truth, and in that to come, life everlasting.
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