Friday, December 3, 2021

On the recent ROCOR-"Russian Tradition" tensions

There is value in ROCOR existing. There is value in the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe existing. There is value in the OCA existing. There is of course value in the Russian Church existing. Liturgical practices differ not insignificantly between these groups as do many procedural and administrative items; they aren't interchangeable. Said another way, if you have more than a passing familiarity with liturgics you know if you are in a ROCOR parish or an OCA parish. I can't even imagine how the AOCRTWE (what a keyboard test) group has progressed over the years. 

At the same time it is hard to explain "Orthodox unity" to people in a convincing way when a single Slavic origin has given rise to so much overlapping diversity. And not only diversity, but sometimes not veiled hostility or lack of trust. Once I would have said that these bodies came from historical events and would eventually fade back into a single body as those historical events no longer loomed as largely. I no long believe there is an invisible egg timer ticking down the seconds to visibly homogenized unity.

( - A conference was held last month in honor of the centenary of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). In his concluding remarks, His Eminence Metropolitan Mark of Berlin spoke about relations with the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe. He noted that in the Russian immigration after the Bolshevik revolution, there were three different Russian jurisdictions formed: ROCOR, the Orthodox Church in America, and what is now the Archdiocese under His Eminence Metropolitan John of Dubna based in Paris.

Each has developed its own ecclesiastical practices, which are not always in agreement. He has therefore had to forbid his clergy recently, after certain instances he did not name, from concelebrating with clergy from the Paris jurisdiction. He nevertheless stated in conclusion that ROCOR and the Archdiocese under Met. John must eventually work towards healing these differences. There was a lot of guessing on why he made this decision, as you might expect.

Video of Met. Mark’s speech was posted by Deacon Andrei Psarev in the Facebook group dedicated to the conference.

The Paris Archdiocese reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019 after it was unceremoniously dissolved by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, to which it most recently belonged. In his remarks, Met. Mark spoke about the Archdiocese as having “seemingly reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate,” and “violating the canons at every step.”

There are also tensions between the Paris Archdiocese and the ROCOR Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe under His Grace Bishop Irinei.. Last December, Met. John received Fr. James Siemens, a former Ukrainian Catholic priest, into the Orthodox Church by vesting, a rite whereby a man is received into the Church as a priest through the placing of priestly vestments upon him and the concelebration of the Divine Liturgy.

Rejecting this means of reception into the Church, in January 2021, Bp. Irinei forbade his clergy from concelebrating with Fr. James, who lives and serves in Cardiff, Wales, or any clergy or local institutions of the Paris Archdiocese in the British Isles. He also resolved that the faithful may not receive the Sacraments in churches of the Paris Archdiocese. If you are curious, vesting is the norm in the US.

In disagreement with this directive, several clerics sought to leave the ROCOR Diocese of Great Britain and join the Paris Archdiocese. On August 24 and September 2, Bp. Irinei’s diocese published a statement emphasizing that a cleric cannot leave one diocese or jurisdiction for another without a canonical release from his hierarch, and that none of the clerics involved had been granted such releases. There's a certain irony here, as ROCOR continues to do this in receiving priests from other jurisdictions without releases all the time.

However, the next day, Met. Jean’s Archdiocese issued a statement announcing that the clerics had been received into the Archdiocese in August. In October, a statement was circulated with Met. Jean’s blessing explaining the Archdiocese’s rationale for receiving the ROCOR clerics.

Commenting on the situation and Met. Mark’s video, His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony of Korsun, the Russian Church’s Patriarchal Exarch in Western Europe, said that the ban on concelebration between clerics of the ROCOR Diocese of Berlin and those of the Archdiocese shouldn’t be perceived as a break in communion between these two structures of the Moscow Patriarchate. For those not familiar with these sorts of disagreements, there are levels of disagreement. A breaking of communion is the most severe of the options.

“Indeed, there is some minor roughness” in relations between ROCOR and the Archdiocese, but “certain steps are being taken” to smooth them out, including fraternal meetings between representatives of both groups, Met. Anthony told RIA-Novosti.

“We hope that wherever there are any misunderstandings, the right solutions will be found ... that it will be possible to agree on everything,” Met. Anthony said.

The Patriarchal Exarch also recalled that there were such difficulties when ROCOR first reunited with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007, but that those difficulties had been ironed out over time.

RIA-Novosti also reached out to His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations for comment.

“I don’t want to go into the details of this conflict, because it’s not part of the sphere of my competence and the sphere of official responsibility of the Department of External Church Relations. But I hope that the temporary difficulties that have arisen will be overcome through negotiations,” he said.


  1. In a situation like this, how much power does Patr. Kyrill have to get everyone to sit down and play nice?

  2. Perhaps some contentious issues should be resolved by clear statements from the patriarchate.

  3. I didn't post a video in a Facebook group. Please correct accordingly. Deacon Andrei Psarev.

    1. Egos at work again,,,Satan abhors harmony,,,,we always look at the mini picture and not the big picture,,,,Economia is used indescriminately by all and then we criticize each other for employing it,,,,,when you point a finger three are pointing back to you

    2. Dcn. Andrei, are you saying this "Andrei Psarev" account is a fake?[0]=AZVEXDGK5vIwraoT7-kOQx6STxaBJgayR-I6EvA6mE-ZAI4mI-zlu9NseHdmxBU50v3Hcnpl9kBC4DRxq7yx4GxCe3YYT60sKNDfKNWnchj7RPs9S5C36yqZ74IrVpr3wQsNZmQZURZk0zIeHwqqw2D4pJ9PE8PaqeezgsyIxqZDuA&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

    3. jckstraw72, it was not Dcn. Andrei that posted the video. Father Mikhail Volzhansky did.

  4. Okay, I am getting confused again. First of all, the OCA isn't in Europe (that I know of) and, if am am correct, there are 3 different Russian Diocese that all report back to Moscow: We have:
    1) Archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe (AROCW) under Archbishop John. Know as the "Paris Jurisdiction" and until recently was under Constantinople
    2) ROCOR Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe under Bishop Irenie (though what role does Met Mark have, I thought he was retired)
    3) Patriarchal Exarchate in Western Europe (PEWE)under Metropolitan Anthony. This includes the old Diocese of Sourzozh once headed by Met Anthony Bloom of Blessed Memory.

    Now, did I get this right?

  5. "the ban on concelebration between clerics of the ROCOR Diocese of Berlin and those of the Archdiocese shouldn’t be perceived as a break in communion between these two structures of the Moscow Patriarchate."

    What else can you call it? Their clergy have been ordered to have nothing to do with Rue Daru, and their (ROCOR) laity have been barred from setting foot in Rue Daru Churches or receiving the Mysteries from them.

    This whole drama started in the UK (although its origins no doubt predate the incidents in question), when Archpriest Andrew Phillips (Yes, THAT Andrew Phillips, of "Orthodox England" fame) left ROCOR for Rue Daru (along with a number of clergy and laity). Interestingly, none of the pro-MP news outlets reported on this at all (if it had been ACROD and the UOC-USA going at it in this way, you can be sure it would have been front page news), and it is only now that this crisis has engulfed all of Western Europe, that now the MP is "commenting," trying to downplay it and in full damage control mode.

    The question of receiving Catholic clergy by vesting has long been a contentious one, but it is a long standing practice of the Moscow Patriarchate. I think the fact that the EP specifically cited this MP practice in justification (the justification, in fact) of their reception of the OCU being canonical, and it has caused the "anti-vesting" party to be more hard line and uncompromising.

    ROCOR chose the nuclear option and there isn't a real smooth way to resolve this, as ROCOR Europe is clearly backing Bp. Irenei up on this issue. Somebody is going to get egg on their face. A sad situation all around. The ROCOR and MP Synod can't punt on this, now that it has engulfed all of Western Europe.

    1. Meropolitan Anthony is referring specifically to Metropolitan Mark's diocese in his comment, and Metropolitan Mark has said nothing about banning laity from communing in Rue Daru parishes. Clergy not concelebrating isn't the same as breaking Communion. Recall that the Russian Synod responded to Constantinople in two steps: First they stopped commemorating Patriarch Bartholomew and concelebrating, but this wasn't severed Communion. Only a few months later did they full-on break Communion.

    2. Do you really think that ROCOR priests will bless their flock to commune in Rue Daru parishes? Just because it isn't on paper doesn't mean thst isn't the reality. You mention the EP-MP split. MP spiritual fathers quietly give their blessing for laity to commune in Elder Ephraim Monasteries in America. Technically under the GOA, but hey...right?

    3. //Do you really think that ROCOR priests will bless their flock to commune in Rue Daru parishes?// I don't know any priests in Metropolitan Mark's diocese, so I have no idea, but Metropolitan Anthony was commenting on Metropolitan Mark's decision, not on what every single priest might possibly do.

      //MP spiritual fathers quietly give their blessing for laity to commune in Elder Ephraim Monasteries in America. Technically under the GOA, but hey...right?// Point being what? They shouldn't be doing that.

    4. I'll say, yes, Metropolitan Anthony is clearly trying to downplay what seems to be a more serious situation, but he is still correct that abstaining from concelebration is not the same as a full-blown break in Communion.

    5. jckstraw72, forgive me for being prickly in my response. Upon re-reading, I see that it could have been worded more gently.

      My general point is that what is or is not "official" does not necessarily reflect the actual reality. The MP is OFFICIALLY out of communion with the EP, but in reality, there is limited intercommunion (with those Churches and places that have the "right opinion" on the Ukraine issue). So we can't really speak of a "schism" in either situation.

      For whatever reason, Bp. Irenei took the most extreme option in the UK. ROCOR on the continent seems to have moderated some, barring "concelebration," but in actual practice ROCOR laity will most likely follow their shepherds in staying away.

      This goes back to what Archbishop Anastasios of Albania was talking about: Weaponizing the Chalice.

  6. Bp. Irinei wrote one of the best refutations of the theological errors of the Ecumenical Patriarch, showing that the Moscow/CP schism has a theological as well as a political basis. It is astonishing that he has chosen to undermine this achievement by launching an unjustified (so far as I can see) attack on the Rue Daru and creating the impression that ROCOR is defending its territory against a competitor, just as Moscow is accused of doing in Ukraine. What can he possibly be thinking?

    Dionysius Redington

  7. ROCOR in particular has a penchant for "strictness for thee but not for me(us)". For once it would be refreshing for these sorts of economic disagreements not to be played out in the same old "your violating the canons!", not the least reason because the canons don't actually speak directly to these issues in our current ontology (i.e. non-Empire "jurisdictional" reality), you have to do interpretive work and most importantly the *relational* work to actually solve them.

    In the larger picture I fully agree with our host, but I take it further: Orthdoxy's so called "conciliar" catholic/ecumenical unity (of faith, dogma, "phronema", etc.) is being, and already has been, fundamentally undermined. In other words our present ontology is not an aberration (e.g. of recent past which will be self-corrected in short order)...

  8. Jake,

    In fairness to ROCOR, they have struggled a bit since 2007 to fully integrate into Russian Orthodoxy at large. They were in communion with the Greek Old Calendarists at one point, and they have been trying to shake off that influence for years. There is still a "zealot wing" (the fireeaters who didn't bail after the 2007 agreement) which is rather vocal on the internet, but doesn't necessarily reflect the whole. Abbot Tryphon and Father John Whiteford are more representative, I would say.

    With that said, I agree that ROCOR's "record" has been very mixed over the years on these types of issues. The irregularities in regards to ordinations et al which accumulated over the decades were simply "fixed" with the MP's signature on the reunion agreement (which makes their vocal opposition to the OCU's ordinations additionally "ironic"). The years since the reunion have been them "ironing out" these difficulties, which have been alluded to in the statement.

    I don't believe this break in communion happened out of nowhere, and that there were multiple events that lead up to it. Contrary to the "celebration" of Rue Daru's return to the MP fold, I believe ROCOR was actually very unhappy about it, as the bad blood between those two bodies was historically and apparently still is very real ("Modernists! One and all"). Much like the UOC-MP and the OCU, forcing two parties who are deeply at odds into the same room together by "canonical fiat" is not necessarily a recipe for peace.

    I think viewing the Canons in the right way (guidelines for the Bishops to properly exercise their work of "binding and loosing") rather than immutable laws (the lawyer position---of which everybody claims expertise) is better for everyone.

  9. What I don't understand is why doesn't Kirill and the Russian Holy Synod make a decision on this and impose it? Are there not guidelines etc on receiving clergy by Vesting that applies to all parts of the ROC?

    1. The MP has a long history of receiving by vesting, putting out a written guideline would both normalize it and scandalize conservative elements. Going against it would paint it into a corner for situations.

  10. Interesting how the MP and her supporters (including Constantinople) are willing to justify the vesting of Uniates, but then the MP continues to cry foul of Constantinople's reception of the OCU, because most of its clergy are "unordained".

    I really fail to see the difference between "ordination" by the Kievan Patriarchate and "ordination" by the Uniate Roman Catholics.

    If anything, the "ordinations" of the Kievan Patriarchate probably matched completely to the rubrics of the Moscow Patriarchate, while those of the Uniates perhaps not so much. The Kievan Patriarchate was in schism for not even thirty years, while the Unia has been in schism for over four hundred.

  11. ROCOR exists to preserve the practices of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church--except when they don't. In many cases, it is the Moscow Patriarchate itself that continues to utilize the pre-1918 practice while ROCOR has opted for another path.

    Receiving Catholics by Profession of Faith and Renunciation of Errors? MP-Yes. ROCOR-No.

    Receiving Catholic clergy through vesting? MP-Yes. ROCOR-No.

    Receiving Monophysites by Profession of Faith and Renunciation of Errors? MP-Yes. ROCOR... well, they rebaptized an Armenian at Jordanville on Holy Saturday this year! (Was it because he was baptized in the Armenian church by pouring? If that's the reason, well, there are a lot of believers of the MP who will need to be rebaptized by ROCOR!)

    Now, ROCOR may have very good reasons for making these changes in sacramental practice. That's not my point. But when ROCOR was reconciled to the Moscow Patriarchate, such differences should have been ironed out. When different parts of a single patriarchate are operating under two different metrics for sacramental theology, you will inevitably have clashes. (This also happens in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, so it is a pan-Orthodox problem.)

  12. Joseph,

    It is that very point that has no doubt caused the anti-vesting faction to be more firm and uncompromising in their approach. There is no actual difference between receiving the OCU and Roman Catholic priests (of the "Byzantine" variety), because traditionally, both are "graceless." To use a quote from the anti-OCU crowd: Roman Catholic priests are "laypeople playing dress up." This controversy is embarassing for the MP, because it shines a very bright light on this practice and brings these questions out in the open for pan-Orthodox discussion---in particular your point about there being no real difference.

    One could of course criticize the EP for embracing a practice (vesting) that they historically and traditionally were against. I think if you look at all of the anti-OCU Greek Bishops, they are also likely "anti-vesting"----as that is the traditional Greek position.

    Given the seriousness of the ROCOR-Rue Daru crisis, the practice of vesting will have to be revisited in a serious way. The EP's use of it to receive the OCU will no doubt give new life to the push to abolish the practice once and for all, citing "a new reality in the modern world," undoubtedly coupled with a slap against "Patriarchates and Churches who have abused the practice."

    1. "One could of course criticize the EP for embracing a practice (vesting) that they historically and traditionally were against."

      There is some nuance here that is necessary.

      There are historical and contemporary examples wherein the Ecumenical Patriarchate (either in its "central" expression at the Phanar or via its various jurisdictions around the globe) has received Catholic clergy without re-ordination. (Let's just assume, for the sake of this post, that the formal vesting rite of the Russian tradition and any reception of Catholic clergy into Orthodoxy without re-ordination are equivalent.)

      For example, I do not believe the Ecumenical Patriarchate re-ordained Fr. Orestes Chornock, but rather accepted him and all priests associated with him (whether they were ordained as Greek Catholics or as Orthodox) with the swipe of a pen--without a formal vesting rite. Over the years, both ACROD and the UOC-USA have continued to receive Catholic priests without re-ordination. Just this year, a former Byzantine Catholic priest was received into ACROD by vesting.

      But this does not seem to apply across the board, though. The GOA seems to apply a different metric. In 2011, when a former Melkite priest was received into Orthodoxy in the GOA, they deemed it necessary to perform diaconal and priestly ordinations.

  13. They do say the envelopes have the greatest chance of becoming unglued...

    As you noted, in the North America Roman Catholic clergy are [rightly or wrongly] usually received by vesting, but the ROCOR here does not issue histrionic statements or declare ruptures in does when clergy jump ship, but as you noted, the hypocrisy is a bit much given the ROCOR's own behavior in that department.

  14. The apparent hypocrisy between the MP's reception of schismatic clergy by vesting (the service of which was written by St Philaret of Moscow) and the objection to the recognition of the schismatics of the OCU is only just that, apparent. Constantinople never vested or received any of the schismatic clergy. Constantinople, if they weren't operating off the principle of trying to offend the MP and the UOC as much as possible, would have probably already received the recognition of the OCU by Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania if they would have actually received the Ukrainian schismatics by vesting and making them clergy of the EP first, and then conferring autocephaly.

    1. The OCU was first reconciled by two exarchs of the EP who arrived in Ukraine and the later reception was "by the stroke of a pen".

      Similarly, the reception of Uniates by Moscow at the 1946 Council of Lvov was also "by the stroke a pen". Basically, it was "go ahead and put your vestments on, you are now an Orthodox priest". It that's satisfactory enough for the Russian Church, then it's satisfactory enough for Constantinople.

    2. I confess a certain (in the end perverse) pleasure in walking the road of legalistic proceduralism with Phocas here. Now I'm wondering what would/could have been if these hypotheticals had taken place on a Saturday! ;)

    3. Joseph: Interestingly, at the 1946 Sobor, there WAS some sort of action of "reconciliation" for the priests in attendance. Last year, I found a video on YouTube (which, sadly, has been taken down) of the Soviet newsreels from the event, with Romanian subtitles. In the movie, it showed how the priests stepped up to one of the hierarchs in attendance, who then placed the end of his omofor on the priest's head and made the Sign of the Cross. Whether this was repeated on other occasions for other priests who became Orthodox, I don't know.

  15. Phocas,

    That would not have satisfied the MP at all, nor would it placate the pro-MP party internationally. "The Constantinople Patriarchate has no right to do that!" would have been their response, and their actions would have been unchanged. As Joseph noted, the MP has done it before, in 1946 as well as fixing all of ROCOR's "irregularities" with the reunion.

    This is all politics (past and present), with the Church attempting a pastoral workaround through "vesting." That was the original impetus for the practice, and it has been over the years as the lines on the map changed in Eastern Europe (and other places).

    We can't ignore the positive fruit that has come of it, nor can we ignore the big problems that have come because of it.

    I suppose a positive of all of this is that it brings a real Council closer to reality-----the other Ecumenical Councils were called when things were much uglier than we see now.

    I'm done talking about the Ukraine issue in general, because as we see in the news, all of it is on the brink of being swept away anyway.

  16. It only means that MP is the mother of all schisms... know nothing except divide and conquer... the mother of all hypocrisy.

    This is what they doing in Southeast Asia and East Asia and now in many parts of the world.

    1. There is a temptation to bitterness, in particular over the divisions you cite in Asia. But these missions often are little more than chapels for local Russian expats and a few Russophiles. All the MP succeeded in doing was dividing the Russian expat community abroad, as not every Russian was willing to leave the priests and communities they spent many years as a part of (long term Russian expats).

      The MP seeks to retake what they consider to be "lost missions." In their narrative, the EP stole them during the Cold War. That isn't what actually happened, but that is what they believe. It started out as Russian priests serving Liturgies in their Embassies (bypassing other Orthodox missions), and then later, when possible, they set up "missions." They believe they are right, and so it justifies these heart rending actions in their minds.

      It is sad, but it is something that was happening long before the Ukraine crisis.