Staunton, July 30 – Moscow plays up the divisions within Orthodoxy in Ukraine to weaken that country and to suggest it remains part of a Russian world, but, Russian writers have failed to acknowledge the obvious: Orthodoxy in Russia is even more divided however much the state tries to ensure the dominance of one branch by encouraging divisions in the rest.
On the portal devoted to the promotion of the non-patriarchate Orthodox in Russia, Kseniya (Mitrenina), a nun, provides a useful guide not only to the divisions within this segment of Russian Orthodoxy since 1917 but also to the fissiparous tendencies within it in recent years (ostrova.org/meteo/katalog-oskolkov/).
The Bolshevik revolution split Russian Orthodoxy into three parts, she writes, the official church which decided to cooperate with the Soviet state, the underground or “catacomb” church which refused to do so, and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad which arose in the emigration and united a large part of it.
The catacomb church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad were “physically separated from one another by the iron curtain.” But from the end of the 1980s, the Church Abroad began to “return” to Russia, even as by that time, the numbers of followers of the Catacomb church were very small.
Thus, by 1991, there was “not one Orthodoxy” in Russia “but several” – the official Moscow Patriarchate, church groups tracing their origins to the émigré or catacomb churches who are known as the True Orthodox Churches, and “all the other Orthodox church groups” which don’t accept the one or the other, Kseniya says.
The situation has been complicated by the fact that in Soviet times, the Church Abroad viewed the Patriarchal church as “the Red Church” and did not want to have anything to do with it, but after the fall of communism, parts of it began to make their peace with the patriarchate while others remained completely hostile.
The Russian nun then lists “the remnants of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in Russia” and how they arose:
· 1995. The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church separated from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. It is gradually disappearing, however.
· 2001. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad establishes communion with the Moscow Patriarchate but that leads to a split between the followers of Metropolitan Lavr and Metropolitan Vitaly.
· 2002. Vitaly’s church splits from the Russian True Orthodox Church.
· July 2006. It divides again into one headed by Bishop Vladimirin the US and Bishop Aleksey in Kyiv.
· November 2006. It splits again with the rise of a Protopresbyter in Paris.
· May 2007. Metropolitan Lavr takes his church into the Patriarchal church and so his group ceases to exist. But that leads to a new split with those who refuse to go along following Metropolitan Agafangel in Odessa.
· June 2007. The Russian True Orthodox Chruch divides into two parts, one following Metropolitan Antony which becomes infamous for its sympathies for Hitler, and another headed by Metropolitan Damaskin who promotes monarchy.
This pattern of dividing and reuniting has continued since then, the Russian nun points out, providing details on each of the splits, where the leadership of each group now is, and what its prospects are. But that doesn’t end the picture of the complexity of Orthodoxy in Russia, she points out.
There are as well followers in Russia of the Orthodox Church in North America, several groups of Greek old style believers, the followers of Metropollitan Rafail,, and several ecumenical and renewal groups, including the Apostolic Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and so on.
The very fissiparousness of Orthodox churches gives the Kremlin enormous opportunities to play divide and conquer at any one point, but it also means that any church structures it does put in place almost certainly will begin to deteriorate and fall apart even before the ink is dry on any agreement among the hierarchs.