Cathedral of St Nicholas, Nice

Some weeks ago, I became aware of the dispute over ownership of this cathedral. It had been leased by Tsar St Nicholas II to the Archbishop of St Petersburg for 99 years. In that time, it came to be used by the Rue Daru jurisdiction under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, (of which the Basilite group became part after leaving the Diocese of Sourozh). The lease expired in 2007 yet its current occupants are now claiming rightful ownership.

What had managed to bypass me until today was the news from three weeks ago that a French court ruled that the Russian state, as the successor to the Tsar as the governing entity of Russia, is the rightful owner of the cathedral and all properties attached to it. An appeal was launched immediately.

It may be remembered that the Dormition Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens, London, was at the heart of a not dissimilar legal battle only recently, again due to members of this same jurisdiction which, as Fr Andrew shares, has long been problematic.

Jurisdictional claims over Estonia, receiving Bishop Basil and his clergy without canonical release in the United Kingdom, poaching suspended Antiochian clergy in North America*, and now attempting to misappropriate property in France - when will the power-grabbing of the Constantinople Patriarchate cease? It does nobody any good. It does our Orthodox witness no good, and it wounds the bonds of filial love that should exist among brothers and sisters in Christ. Please, let it end.

I think that our First Hierarchs need to approach this matter with humility and try to reach some resolution. Anybody who saw the excerpt from 60 Minutes would not fail to be moved with sympathy for Patriarch Bartholomew and gain some understanding of the situation in which the Constantinople Patriarchate struggles to exist, but grabbing power, territory, and property elsewhere cannot be the solution, surely.

That He may deliver His people from enemies both visible and invisible, and confirm in us oneness of mind, brotherly love, and piety, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy!

*This came in the wake of the Patriarchate of Antioch declaring its support for the Constantinople Patriarchate in its uncanonical acceptance of clergy from the Russian Church, only for Constantinople to then do the same thing to Antioch. I confess that I felt a sense of sinful satisfaction when this happened, of which I am not proud.

8 responses:

BillyD said...

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom was responsible for "fatal fragments of... modernist heritage" (according to the Fr Andrew page you link to)?

Michael said...

I'm really something of a johnny-come-lately so have little first-hand experience, so I rely largely on what is said by those who were involved back then. Sadly, some of this was corroborated by much of what those who left with Bishop Basil said in the press (they had very good PR) and even which was summarised in the high court judgement about the cathedral in Ennismore Gardens, where a number of the things that they perceived as intrusive russifications by the newcomers left me confused. As somebody removed from the Sourozh diocese and its history, and who hadn't really been following the political situation in any great detail, I simply saw those things as standard Orthodox practice based on Orthodox doctrinal and liturgical heritage. I couldn't understand what the problem was, and I began to wonder what had actually been happening before for the restoration of Orthodox customs to be perceived as an intrusive change.

Fr Andrew himself has first-hand experience of the history of the Rue Daru exarchate and of the Russian church in the UK over the years, and I have no reason not to trust him. I have other friends who have been on the UK Orthodox scene much longer than I have who tell me of a mentality in Sourozh of belonging to "Metropolitan Anthony's church", yet it was always only a local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. By all accounts, it was a clash that was long waiting to happen.

Where personal responsibility for that history lies, I am in no position to say but the fruits of it are here today.

BillyD said...

"...those things as standard Orthodox practice based on Orthodox doctrinal and liturgical heritage..."

What are we talking about here - headscarves and mandatory Confession before every Communion? That's what I (also with no first hand experience of the situation in Britain) managed to pick up from the Wikipedia article on the diocese.

Michael said...

That, along with performing the proskomede in the midst of the church, commemoration of the non-Orthodox at the proskomede, and a very broad extension of economy with regard to canonical impediments to the priesthood. There were likely other irregularities as well, of which I'm unaware.

To be fair, from my memory of reading the judgement, some of the other cultural things mentioned that caused consternation seemed very understandable, and I think I, too, would be unsettled if things suddenly changed so that the actual feel of my parish were to go through an upheavel in this way: people insisting on payment for services done for the church - cleaning, arranging flowers - and so forth, which are quite alien to many people's way of thinking in Britain.

However, the performance of the proskomede in the midst of the people strikes me as being akin to the insistence of some convert clergy on chanting the mystikos prayers aloud or shouting them over the congregational singing, and serving with the doors open, and is rooted in the clericalism that developed in the west after the reformation, where "priestcraft" was condemned and the laity were considered to be not fully participating if they could not see and hear the priest at all times. This implies that the participation of the laity is so completely dependent on the priest that they are left destitute and forlorn if he does anything that they cannot see, or says anything that they cannot hear. It's the same mindset that leads in some churches to the disparaging reference to the priest facing east along with the people as "back to the people". Yet this isn't what we find in Byzantine worship as it has developed today, and my opinion is that we - converts especially - need to be more guarded about the baggage that we bring with us, and more willing to be moulded by what we find in our new homes, yet even this isn't without its problems, which leads nicely into the next point.

As for canonical impediments, I am not a bishop and the decisions of where to extend economy are not mine to make. I welcome the pastoral care that our hierarchs extend in their application of the canons. However, I think that there needs to be discretion and some thought for how this will affect the mindset of the people, bearing in mind that what we believe and how we believe is coloured very much by what surrounds us and what we absorb. When the individual exception, made due to pastoral need, becomes the norm, then my personal view is that it is time for pause and reassessment.

cont'd below

Michael said...

The commemoration of non-Orthodox at the proskomede speaks for itself. You and I have had an exchange elsewhere about different perspectives on the boundaries of the Church and I suppose the angle from which the matter is viewed will colour whether or not one sees this practice as acceptable. That's fair enough.

However, leaving that question aside, the proskomede is an expression of real sacramental communion with Christ, the Church, and each other - it isn't solely a means of praying for people, although it is that too. The commemoration of first, Christ, then the Mother of God, then the various orders of Angels and Saints, the ruling bishop, and the living and departed, with their particles placed on the diskos, is an actualisation of the communion of the Church, gathered around Christ, the Head. The emptying of those particles into the Blood of Christ immediately after the communion of the people is a further expression of that communion. Where that communion is absent, I don't think it is proper to use this rite to express otherwise. Therefore, the suggestion that the non-commemoration of non-Orthodox at this point is an exclusion of them from our prayers is not accurate.

We pray for all people during the litanies, and the litany of fervent supplication has abundant provision for the insertion of prayers for people in various states and conditions - Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, and we should make full use of them to offer prayer for whoever needs them, that we may truly say to God, "offering unto Thee thine own of thine own, on behalf of all, and for all, we praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, O Lord, and we pray to Thee, O our God".

Michael said...

er... "whomever". Apologies.

BillyD said...

"That, along with performing the proskomede in the midst of the church, commemoration of the non-Orthodox at the proskomede..."

I'm familiar with commemorating non-Orthodox from the practice of some American parishes, but the proskomede in the church seems quite bizarre: did they think that the laity was going to get bored if they didn't get to see it?

The concept of payment for services to the church is odd for me, too.

Michael said...

...the proskomede in the church seems quite bizarre: did they think that the laity was going to get bored if they didn't get to see it?


You've got to wonder. :-D

If people are dozing off within the first ten minutes, then there are bigger problems, I think.

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