Your godfather was Nicholas Zernov, a staunch member of the Moscow Patriarchate. You graduated from St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. Why did you join the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia?
This question requires a very long answer. Forgive me.
I would like you to imagine an English boy, born to a very modest family (my father left school at 14, my mother at 16) that has virtually no connection with any form of Christianity, living in the provinces of England with an agricultural background (my eldest brother is still a farm-worker), without access to any Russian Orthodox church or people, who at the age of 12 begins teaching himself Russian, reads classical Russian literature and feels instinctively at the age of 15 that his whole future is in the Russian Orthodox Church. In all this there is no instruction, spiritual or otherwise, and no information about ‘jurisdictions’, whatever they might be. (Remember that there was no internet and hardly any books to discover such things at that time).
At the first opportunity, when I am 16, I make contact, in Russia, London and then in Oxford, with the Russian Orthodox Church. I discover that there are two Russian Orthodox groups in England. I meet representatives of one group (ROCOR), including a priest, who tell me that I cannot join it because I am not Russian. Therefore, as soon as possible, I join the other group, which is quite happy to receive Non-Russians. My godfather is a charming and elderly Russian émigré professor from a middle-class background, N. M. Zernov. Naturally, at that time I know nothing of his specific views on the Church, though I can at once see that he has virtually no knowledge of English people or life outside the University of Oxford.
I discover that this group calls itself the Sourozh Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate. To me this detail is irrelevant, because it is simply the Russian Orthodox Church. However, once I have joined the Russian Orthodox Church, I begin to discover details. I discover, to my horror, that the Russian Orthodox Church, all jurisdictions included, does not venerate its own new saints – that is, the New Martyrs and Confessors. In 1975 I do venerate them, writing their names into my own calendar and asking for their prayers. Apparently, the refusal/inability to venerate its own saints exists for political reasons. Where do I get the names of these New Martyrs and Confessors from? From a book by a Fr Michael Polsky, which I obtain from a distant place called Jordanville in the USA. I discover that the Russian Orthodox Church (both groups) also refuses to venerate the local saints of England. By the saints of England, I mean the saints of the period before 1054, when, I am told by Orthodox, there was no schism and Christians in Western Europe, despite ritual differences, belonged to the Orthodox Church. Why such contradictions between words and deeds? Why are such questions ignored?
My next discovery is that Nikolai Mikhailovich Zernov was not a staunch member of the Moscow Patriarchate at all. All his contacts and friends were with something called the Paris Jurisdiction, a third group of Russian Orthodox based in Paris and under Constantinople. His roots there are with the Russian Student Christian Movement (it does not have Orthodox in its title) and with Professor Nikita Struve of YMCA Press (not Orthodox in its title either). Then I discover that what is called the Sourozh Diocese was until 1945 part of the Paris Jurisdiction. Then I discover that there is a fourth group of Russian Orthodox in North America called the OCA. They are very close to the Paris Jurisdiction.
I discover that most of the small parishes under Sourozh refuse to pray at public services for their Patriarch, but only for the diocesan bishop, the Parisian Metropolitan Antonii (Bloom), around whom there is an incredible personality cult. I cannot understand this because I find his books either contain the obvious or else are spiritually flat. His books are certainly very hostile to monasticism, which is why the monastic brotherhood founded in England by Archim. Sophrony (Sakharov) had left the Sourozh Diocese in 1965.
Many members of the Sourozh Diocese do not seem to want to belong to the Moscow Patriarchate, are embarrassed by it and do not even want to be on the same calendar as their Patriarch. They boycott services in London whenever they are attended by a bishop from Russia. (Though there is also a tiny group of Soviet patriots in the Oxford parish who proclaim that they are Orthodox and that the Communist Revolution is God’s gift to Russia). As for most of the Oxford Russian parish, which had then just built a strange, non-Orthodox-looking chapel, its real leader seems to be a former Anglican academic of the Constantinople Jurisdiction, Archim. Kallistos Ware. I find all this very strange.
I begin reading – this is possible in Oxford – and, above all, talking to Orthodox people – also possible in Oxford. In 1976 I win a second scholarship and return to Russia (I had won a first scholarship in 1972 and had gone there then). In Krasnodar in 1976 I see the authentic Russian Orthodox Church. I secretly meet Church people, notably Archpriest Lev Lebedev. I realise that the CatacombChurch and the Patriarchal Church inside Russia are basically the same. Clergy serve in one openly and the other secretly. My eyes open, as I see authenticity and the huge gap between what passes off as the Moscow Patriarchate outside Russia and that inside Russia. This is knowledge and experience that will become invaluable to me later. Fr Lev speaks to me of ROCOR in words of admiration. I explain to him that ROCOR is inaccessible to me as a Non-Russian. He is surprised. For him ROCOR is the same as the Moscow Patriarchate in its ethos, only unlike the Patriarchate, it is free.
I leave university in 1977. Fr Lev tries to get me into the Theological Academy in Moscow. It is the Cold War. This is impossible. Then I try to go to Kenya to help, if I can, in the Orthodox mission there. This is also impossible. I then decide to obtain a teaching diploma, which will allow me to work in the only Orthodox country that is accessible to me, that is Greece. This I do in 1978-79. In Greece I see daily Orthodox life and visit Mt Athos. After these experiences I cannot see any alternative to studying at the only Orthodox Institute in Western Europe, the St Sergius Institute in Paris. (I did not see the USA as an option. The OCA seemed to me from meetings with its members and from reading books by Fr Alexander Schmemann and others to be a largely anti-Russian and aggressively Protestant-minded organisation and I was told that Jordanville did not accept Non-Russians). So in 1979 I go to the St Sergius Institute, thinking that it was a seminary.
In Paris I discover that the Institute is not a seminary but a ‘religious-philosophical’ Institute. It is virulently anti-monastic, pro-renovationist, aggressively new calendar and ecumenist. Anyone who expresses a dissident view is mocked and looked on as retarded. I discover that the Paris Jurisdiction itself is basically divided into two halves. One half is modernist, pseudo-philosophical, openly praises the renovationists of Soviet times and looks to ‘advanced’ parishes in the OCA and Finland and to the modern Greek typicon. The other half of it is really Russian Orthodox.
I return to England and find that in my absence by the early 80s there is now a movement within the Sourozh Diocese, openly seeking to leave the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition. One of its leaders is Fr Basil Osborne, whom I first met in 1972, when he was a deacon. For these people the fashionable literature is all OCA and they are inspired by its autocephaly. Anyone who follows the Russian Orthodox Tradition is now unwelcome there and is forced to leave. There is talk of the Sourozh Diocese separating from Moscow completely, but ‘we must wait until Metr Antonii is dead before we can do that’ (said to me in 1982).
Meanwhile, in 1981, ROCOR at last canonises the New Martyrs and Confessors. This act brings us closer to ROCOR and we start to go to their London Cathedral and Convent. This is even though their Diocese was divided between what I would call Russian fundamentalists, who would not allow English people to take communion, and ill-informed, Greek old calendarist fundamentalists (all Anglican in origin) who want to make ROCOR into a kosher super-Church, separate from every other Orthodox Church in the world.
Given the dreadful situation and scandals in the Orthodox jurisdictions in England, in 1983 we return to Paris and to my wife’s jurisdiction. Here the newly elected Archbishop George (Wagner), an academic from Berlin, has promised us personally, and others too, to bring the Paris Jurisdiction back to the Russian Tradition and has said that he is open to the use of other languages. Having been forced to serve in the Hitler Youth as a teenager, his background was that of a young hieromonk of the Moscow Patriarchate, who had been asked by the KGB to drop off messages for spies at the Russian cemetery in Berlin. Having refused to this, he had left the Moscow Patriarchate.
Over the next five years we discover which organisation is in reality behind the inner workings of his Paris Jurisdiction and that Archbishop George is in their power and breaks all his promises. First he alienates the traditional, Russian part of his Jurisdiction through many compromises, ecumenical and other. These include allowing members of his Church to take Roman Catholic communion, allowing the concelebration of Uniat clergy with his clergy and being forbidden by a Phanar-Vatican concordat to ordain former Roman Catholic clergy (they have to be sent to the OCA for ordination).
Then he also alienates those who wish to serve in the local languages of Western Europe. Despite having the title ‘of Western Europe’ and despite being German himself, he says that there are only three ‘canonical’ Orthodox languages, ‘Greek, Slavonic and Latin’ and that ‘the Romanians must return to using Slavonic or Greek’. If you do not understand services, he says, you must ‘buy the books and learn Church Slavonic’. He considers that all churches in the Diaspora must be under Constantinople and that ROCOR and the OCA are both ‘uncanonical’. He is anti-monastic, proud of never having visited Mt Athos or Jerusalem, and considers that he has ‘too many parishes’ in his Jurisdiction and must close as many of them as possible.
Here was a total confusion of faith and culture. This lack of Orthodox principles led in the mid-1980s to the continual defection of numbers of his clergy and people to other jurisdictions and has led today to the total domination of his then Archdiocese by the modernists whom he was too weak to stand up to. The last straw for us is in 1988 when, at the celebration of the millennium of the Baptism of Rus, Archbishop George refuses to concelebrate with any other Russian bishop in Western Europe, and instead has to invite the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Paris to his Cathedral.
Fortunately, it is during the 80s in France that we venerate the Myrrh-Giving Montreal Icon of the Mother of God and discover that the ROCOR Diocese of Western Europe under the ever-memorable Archbishop Antonii of Geneva is different from the British ROCOR Diocese. In late 1988, in Archbishop Antonii and his Diocese, I, and a group of 16 others, at last find the Russian Orthodox Church, without, on the one hand, tiresome nationalism or convert fanaticism, or, on the other hand, the political, philosophical, ecumenical, liturgical and canonical betrayal of the Russian Orthodox Tradition by Paris renovationism.
After reading your interview for Pravoslavie.ru, I have the impression that you see our Russian Church as a model for all Orthodox in diaspora. In your opinion, is there anything that the ROCOR could learn from other Orthodox churches?
As sinful human-beings we are all constantly learning and always have constantly learned from others. Contact with others is vital. This is the basis of the catholicity and conciliarity of the Church. Isolation, spiritual self-sufficiency or dependence on one personality or a small number of personalities are all very dangerous. Only fools do not learn.
Like any other Church, ROCOR is very varied. (I hope that I made that clear above from my experiences between 1974 and 1988). I think that the best of ROCOR is a model – certainly not the worst, which was a model for nobody. The best of ROCOR keeps the balanced path, the royal way, of the pre-1917 Russian Orthodox Church, both traditional and open, both faithful and missionary, both monastic and parish-based, without excesses. ROCOR can of course learn an enormous amount from the healthy parts of all other Local Churches, which keep that same balanced path, following the royal way.
For example, in recent times we have to admit that we owe a great deal to the Serbian Church, which was instrumental in furthering the reconciliation of 2007 between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. I also believe that we owe a huge spiritual debt to Mt Athos, which is of course under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. There were a great many monks there who were praying for that reconciliation, praying that ROCOR did not fall into CIA-encouraged and CIA-financed Cold War politics or into the old calendarist error. They also prayed that we would not fall into the temptation of compromising ourselves on account of the political pressures which we were under from secular forces, for instance from the KGB in Moscow. All of these forces were trying to isolate us from the rest of the Orthodox world.
But ROCOR owes debts to all who are of the Orthodox Tradition everywhere. When the Church is persecuted, as ROCOR was, creating a siege mentality, there were two possible courses of action for outsiders. One was to support us, as the Serbs and others did, the other was to join in the stone-throwing. We know exactly who was who and who did what.
In past decades the identity of the Russian Church Outside of Russia has been closely associated with a “siege” mentality. The crisis of isolationism within the ROCOR resulted in the dialogue with Moscow Patriarchate and the subsequent reconciliation. Nevertheless, while the old identity is gone, I believe that we have not yet acquired a new one. What is our “mission statement” today?
Isolationism was first forced on us from outside by the KGB and their willing and unwilling allies. Sadly, isolationism then became a reflex in parts of ROCOR. This began in the 1960s and developed into the 1990s, when it became a sort of self-defence mechanism, given the persecution we were under. However, by 2000 it was clear to many that the period of isolationism had to end. The Cold War was over. It was time to return to the heritage of Metropolitans Antonii and Anastassy, when we freely concelebrated with all other Local Churches (except for the captive Moscow Patriarchate).
However, the way to restore relations with all could only be through dialoguing with that very Moscow Patriarchate. Throughout all our existence ROCOR had never declared itself to be an independent or autocephalous Church. After all, we had always made it clear that we were only a part of the Russian Orthodox Church and that relations with Moscow would return to normal as soon as Moscow was free?’ There has only ever been one question: ‘Is Moscow free?’ In the new millennium, most members of our Church decided that Moscow was now free. What followed then is now history.
As for our mission statement today – it is in our very name. We are ‘The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia’. (The term ‘The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad’ was an old translation. We have not used it for decades. For example, I am not ‘abroad’. Most of my parishioners, Russians born in England, are not ‘abroad’). In other words our mission statement is:
Faithfulness to the Russian Orthodox Church and Tradition in countries outside of Russia. By definition this implies that we are multinational and multilingual, for Russian Orthodoxy has always used native languages ever since St Stephen of Perm and the Zyrian mission. This is a huge, worldwide, creative challenge. It is ours.
Frs Alexander Schmemann and Seraphim Rose were two charismatic figures who gave very different responses to challenging questions of modernity. Which of them is closer to you and why?
I met Fr Alexander and knew several members of his family (especially, the ones that were and are in ROCOR – his was a very divided family). I never met Fr Seraphim. Although I can see the value of his writings, I only read them in the early 1990s and by then I found little new in them. I regretted that I had not known them in the 1970s, when I had had to find out things for myself, the hard way. In the 70s those writings would also have shown me a different ROCOR, which actually accepted Non-Russians. And then I would have discovered St John of Shanghai. However, I do not wish to be overly critical. If I ever get into heaven, which is very doubtful, it might well be through the prayers of a true monk like Fr Seraphim, imploring God’s mercy for my soul. As I would say, he had the fire in his soul.
On the other hand, Fr Alexander Schmemann represented the whole uprooted, upper class, St Petersburg/Paris emigration with all its false philosophical problems and psychological complexes. His writings are not so much about theology as psychology. A large part of that emigration wanted to be Russian Orthodox and also wanted to be Western humanists. What did they do to make themselves feel comfortable? They mixed up the two things together and then called it ‘Western Orthodoxy’. It was not and is not that. It was westernised Orthodoxy, an Orthodoxy without fire in its soul, a flawed and compromised Orthodoxy, which, frankly, is now dying out. Nearly all of its surviving representatives are elderly. It is a sociological, not a spiritual, phenomenon.
Real Western Orthodoxy is a living, not an intellectual, Orthodoxy. It is faithful to the roots of the Orthodox Church, not to German philosophy of the century before last. Western Orthodoxy venerates St Irenaeus of Lyons, St Cyprian of Carthage, Sts Tatiana, Cecilia, Laurence, Sebastian, Anastasia, Melanie and Xenia of Rome, St Hilary of Poitiers, St Ambrose of Milan, St Martin of Tours, St Leo I, St Gregory the Dialogist. It does not venerate the thoughts of Hegel, Schelling and Feuerbach or the fantasies of Soloviov, Berdiaiev and Bulgakov. Orthodoxy is in the humility of the saints of the Living God, not in the cleverness of the minds of fallen men.
To understand Fr Alexander and Fr Seraphim, we must understand that every emigration generally goes through three general phases. The first generation, that of the grandparents, remains faithful to the old country, though is often coloured by nationalist cultural nostalgia. The second generation, born outside the homeland, suffering from an inferiority complex in the new country because of its origins, fights against its own roots. It denies that it is anything but indigenous to the country of emigration and ends up, for example in the USA, being more American than the Americans. It is only the third generation (sometimes aided by the elderly but conscious representatives of the first or grandparents’ generation) that begins to get the balance right. Fr Alexander belonged to the second generation. Fr Seraphim belonged to the third generation, but was helped by the first generation, by Vladyka Averky and others, but above all by St John of Shanghai – the only revealed saint of the Russian emigration.
I must insist on this. After 1917 the Russian émigré elite produced very many ‘charismatic’ artists and musicians, iconographers and philosophers, academic theologians and writers, some outwardly Orthodox, even clergy, especially in Paris. There were among them people of genius, ‘charismatic’ people (in the secular sense of charismatic), but the Russian emigration produced only one saint. (Here I am not talking about saints like St Jonah of Manchuria, who was already formed long before the Revolution). That only saint is St John – and he was the spiritual father of Fr Seraphim. Fr Seraphim represented that part of Russian Orthodoxy that was faithful to the Tradition, but at the same time which expressed itself in the local language. This is Fr Seraphim’s importance. This faithfulness to the Tradition expressed in the local language is the fruit of St John. And who was St John? He was the spiritual child of Metr Antonii of Kiev, appointed by the holy Patriarch Tikhon as the first ROCOR First Hierarch. We are all Tikhonites – and proud of it. Only when people outside ROCOR realise this will the other Russian jurisdictions join our Tikhonite ROCOR.
New Local Orthodox Churches are founded by monastic missions, whether by St Augustine and 40 monks in England in 597, or by Sts Cyril and Methodius and their disciples in the Slav mission, or by St Herman in Alaska, or by St Nicholas in Japan. New Churches are not founded by spiritually flat or empty intellectuals and philosophers, however ‘charismatic’ they might be. Have they not heard of the illiterate fishermen of Galilee, made wise not by booklore, but by the soul-lore of the Holy Spirit? Fr Seraphim belongs to the line of the fishermen of Galilee. He solved problems by living the Orthodox Faith, not thinking about it.
What is the best way to rectify the uncanonical status of the Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe?
I firmly believe that the solution to this has always been in what existed in North America before 1917. In the words of the future Patriarch Tikhon on pp. 68-70 of the Russian American Messenger in 1905:
‘As to the see of North America, it ought to be made into an Exarchate of the Russian Church. The fact is that this see is composed not only of different nationalities, but also of different Orthodox Churches, each of which, though one in faith, has its peculiarities of canonical order, ritual and parish life. These peculiarities are dear to them and perfectly tolerable from the general Orthodox point of view. This is why we do not consider that we have the right to interfere in the national character of the Churches in this country and indeed we try to preserve it, giving each one a chance to be governed directly by heads of the same nationality….In short, it is possible that in America there will be formed an entire Exarchate of national Orthodox Churches with their own bishops, whose Exarch is to be to the Russian Archbishop.
In his own field of work each of these bishops is to be independent, but the affairs which concern the American Church in general are to be decided by a General Council, presided over by the Russian Archbishop. Through him will be preserved the connection of the Orthodox Church of America with the Church of all the Russias [sic!] and a degree of dependence of the former on the latter. We also must keep in view that, compared with the life in the old country, life in America has its peculiarities, with which the local Orthodox Church is obliged to count, and that consequently that it ought to be allowed to be more autonomous than other Metropolitan districts of Russia’.
Here was and is the vision of the structure for unity, a Diaspora united under the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is not because it is ‘Russian’ or because ‘Russians’ are better than other Orthodox. We full well know from our experience that this is not the case. I listen to Russian confessions. We can be united under the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is because the Russian Orthodox Church, with its territory covering over one seventh of the globe before the Revolution, was and still is the only Local Orthodox Church with the multinational and multilingual culture, missionary experience, background and infrastructure to be able to provide such a structure for unity. The Diaspora mess only happened because the Russian Church was enslaved and paralysed by Communism for most of the 20th century. It is now for the Russian Church to rise to the challenge, to meet its responsibilities, as it was meeting them before 1917. Why else did God give Russians one seventh of the planet to govern? It was so that they could use it wisely for the Church.
There should be One (Russian Orthodox founded – nobody else will do it) Metropolia of Europe. Within such a Metropolia, each of the six Non-East Slav groups (Romanian, Greek, Serb, Bulgarian, Arab, Georgian) should have its own Deanery or Diocese, with a Dean or Bishop of its particular nationality, united under a Metropolitan. Each group must enter into the Metropolia structure voluntarily, free to keep its ties with its Mother-Church. This is the solution to the jurisdictional and administrative chaos in the twenty-one countries of Western and Central Europe – Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, Luxembourg, Iceland, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco: An Orthodox Metropolia of Europe.
Furthermore, there needs to be One (Russian Orthodox founded – nobody else will do it) Metropolia of the Americas. The OCA experiment, whatever its merits, has not worked. It was a child of its time and of a conformist immigrant generation with its psychological and sociological complexes, which excluded others of a more traditional Orthodoxy. The OCA came out of the Cold War, with its all too human limitations. In the words of its present head, Metr Jonah, at its recent Conference on 20 June 2009: ‘The OCA’s charter and vocation is for it to disappear’. In other words, those in the OCA who are beginning to return to the Orthodox Tradition have at last understood that the OCA has only ever been a half-way house, a necessary stage or means to the formation of a Local Regional Church, not an idol, not an end in itself.
One of the multiple reasons for the OCA’s problems is that it was largely shaped by the Protestant cultural background and mentality of the USA and Canada. The Roman Catholic background of the third North American country, Mexico, as well as Central America and South America would help it develop. Too narrow a cultural background can lead to local nationalism. We have seen it not only in a certain US/Protestant nationalism in parts of the OCA, but also in Western Europe, where French/Roman Catholic nationalism (in the Paris Jurisdiction) and Anglican nationalism in the old Sourozh Diocese and the Antiochian Deanery have weakened Church unity.
Furthermore, there also needs to be One (Russian Orthodox founded – nobody else will do it) Metropolia of Australasia. This would cover not only Australia and New Zealand, but missionary territories such as Indonesia, South Korea, Indo-China, India, Pakistan, Nepal etc. (The remaining territories in the world, not so far mentioned, are Africa, which is the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and China and Japan, which depend on the Moscow Patriarchate directly).
In other words, the best days of ROCOR, to become the true and complete Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, are before us. ROCOR is to become a Church of Three Metropolias. We live in global times. Now, at last, ROCOR in three Regional Orthodox Metropolias has the potential of a global Church acting locally, working together with others, eventually helping and preparing, with the support of Moscow, to set up new Regional Orthodox Churches. For, by the grace of God, one day, even if in the distant future, these Metropolias will be able to receive a mature, not premature and immature, autocephaly, in the Americas, in Europe and in Australasia.
I pray to God that my grandchildren will not have to go through what we had to go through in the last century, when the Russian Orthodox Church became the plaything of the secular forces which created and manipulated the Cold War. I hope that they (grandchildren – ed.) will be able to be nostalgic about the past, which we cannot be. We have not had that luxury. Everything has been an incredible struggle. But I also thank God, because if we had not had to struggle to survive, we would not be where we are now and would not know what we know now. All the suffering has been and is necessary to combat our own sins.
Forgive me for giving such long answers to your short questions.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions.