21 June 2013
The Church seems divided? Yet, is it?
Q & A from The Shepherd Magazine
“THE MORE I learn about the Orthodox Church, the more I
seem to find it seems divided, yet is it? The Greece Orthodox Church,
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, The Moscow Patri-
archate, The Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, and the Western Rite, I
expect there are more divisions. Are they just names for the Orthodox
Church in different parts of the world?” - Rev’d M.C, Devon.
OH YES, many more divisions! I am reminded of an occasion
way back when I lived in London. I used to go to a shop run by a Muslim
couple, and one day the wife told me that Muslims were divided into two
groups, Sunni and Shiite, and she added with evident pride: “Our part is
divided into 72 different sects!” The thought went through my mind then
that perhaps we Orthodox ought to adopt the same technique rather than
always being so apologetic about our divisions.
But more seriously, the apparent divisions within Orthodoxy have
various causes and consequently some are more serious than others. First
of all, after the schism of Rome from Orthodoxy, there were four Pa-
triarchates left, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and
some smaller autocephalous Churches, Cyprus, Georgia, etc. Then, with
the spread of Orthodoxy into regions hitherto not evangelized, new ter-
ritories were added.
For centuries now, in these new territories, the Orthodox Church
has been administered very largely with separate, autocephalous, hierar-
chies for each nation state. Thus there was a Russian Church, a Greek
Church, a Bulgarian Church, a Serbian Church, a Romanian Church, and
so on. This is in fact very similar to the situation within the Anglican
Communion. Naturally, over the centuries, with various political chang-
es, the borders of these National (or, as they are properly called, Local)
Churches varied and indeed for periods some of them disappear. All
these Churches shared the same Faith and, with the exception of some
local and temporary difficulties, were in full communion with each other.
Their divisions were purely administrative.
With the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the consequent en-
slavement of the administration of the Church in what is by far the largest
of the Orthodox Local Churches, a second and much more serious type
of division occurred. Metropolitan (later Patriarch) Sergius subjected
the Church administration to the Soviet and atheistic rulers of the state,
and thus compromised her integrity. Within Russia, many clergy and
lay people did not accept this compromise and went underground, form-
ing a Catacomb Church. Outside Russia, the clergy and laity divided.
The Russian Church Abroad was formed which stood in resistance to
the Sergianist compromise until it largely capitulated in 2007. Sadly
two other jurisdictions were also formed. One in Western Europe placed
itself under the Patriarchate of Constantinople; and in the United States
the American Metropolia followed an independent course, for a time re-
joining the Church Abroad, and then separating again, and in the 1970s
receiving an irregular recognition from Moscow as the Orthodox Church
in America. The original divisions in this sad history, the separation of
the Church Abroad administratively from Moscow and the separation
of the Catacomb Church were soundly based acts of resistance to the
enslavement of the Church to a theomachist state.
A third set of divisions has occurred over the past decades as
a reaction to the espousal by the official Local Churches of the heresy
of ecumenism, the adoption of the new calendar, and the concurrent
abandonment of traditional Orthodox piety and the encroachment of
modernism. (In many of the Local Churches, in the first instance this
move was in fact imposed upon them by their Soviet rulers, as it suited
their purposes.) So in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria in particular, old
calendarist Synods have been established. Sadly, particularly in Greece,
this movement has fragmented into a number of Synods of varying au-
thenticity, some holding extremist views and some striving to follow the
consensus of the Fathers. I suppose, from your point of view, that to an
extent one may liken this last set of divisions to the break-away tradi-
tionalist manifestation in the Roman Catholic confession.
The Western Rite as such is not a “division,” because it is prac-
tised only in the Antiochian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church
Abroad-Moscow Patriarchate (ROCA-MP), and is fully and wholly
within their jurisdictions. However, it seems to me that though the idea
of it might have stemmed from good intentions it is a flawed concept,
but that is a much wider question, although I think I do not stray far from
a fair assessment of the facts if I say that the history of this experiment
within Orthodoxy bears out my opinion.
I think that it is fair to say that there has hardly
been a time in history when the Orthodox Church
has been in a worse state than it is now.
I think that it is fair to say that there has hardly been a time in
history when the Orthodox Church has been is a worse state than it is
now. Perhaps at other times it has been weaker, but always there seem to
have been spiritual giants who remained faithful. Quite obviously there
are such today, or the promise of our Saviour would have proved false,
which is unthinkable, but it is perhaps for history to judge, and not for us
to boast who they are in any other way than by adhering to them and to
their confession. However, I believe, that we can unnecessarily depress
ourselves by regarding the Church only in administrative terms and thus
concentrating on all these divisions and contentions. This can lead to
distraction, both internally and externally. Our part is rather to remain
faithful, and to have a regard for the inner integrity and faithfulness of the
I remember one of our parishioners asking St Philaret the New
Confessor, when he visited England in, I believe, the late seventies, how
in this day and age one can remain faithful to Orthodoxy. He replied that
we should be like a little child fearful of losing its mother in a crowd and
holding tightly to her skirt. That is why we placed ourselves under the
omophorion of Metropolitan Cyprian.
*This answer is given by Archimandrite [Abbot] Alexis whose
monastery is in the Synod In Resistence [SIR] which is a
"sister church" in communion with our ROCA under