Communiqué of the Council of the Archdiocese of 30th November 2018
The Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, which is one of the oldest Orthodox ecclesiastical entities in our regions, had been placed under the pastoral responsibility of Metropolitan Evloghiy (Guéorguievski) by Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, by decree of 8th April 1921. Thrown onto the paths of exile by the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian émigrés established, with faith and courage, an ecclesiastical presence based on the main principles of the unfulfilled Council of Moscow of 1917-1918. Established first in Berlin, the see of the Archdiocese was transferred to Paris, to the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky, which is its home to this day, where it took the form of an association under French law, composed of communities and parishes established in France and throughout Western Europe.
The statutes of this association, the Diocesan Governing Union of Russian Orthodox Associations in Western Europe, were deposited at the prefecture on 26th February 1924, and are still in force today. In 1931, in order to guarantee its independence and continuity, the Archdiocese asked to be dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, which was accepted by a patriarchal and synodal Tomos of 17th February 1931, which gave the Archdiocese the status of a provisional Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. On 22nd November 1965, unexpectedly, the Ecumenical Patriarch announced to the Archdiocese the withdrawal of the status of provisional Exarchate of 1931.
The Archdiocese then found itself independent of any patriarchate. It was led throughout this period by Archbishop George (Tarassoff), ruling archbishop from 1960 to 1981. On 22nd January 1971, by a patriarchal and synodal letter, the Ecumenical Patriarchate again accepted the same Archdiocese into its fold, but without granting it a precise canonical status within the Patriarchate itself. From his archiepiscopal election, Archbishop Serge (Konovalov) undertook to negotiate with the Ecumenical Patriarchate a revision of his canonical status within the Patriarchate. This culminated in the granting of the patriarchal and synodal Tomos of 19th June 1999, by which the Holy Synod of Constantinople, at the formal request of the Archdiocese, following several years of internal debate within the Archdiocese and of negotiations with the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, gave the status of Exarchate (non-provisional) to the Archdiocese. It is this status, however, that the Holy Synod, without prior consultation with any official body of the Archdiocese, has just revoked, by a decision of 27th November 2018.
Due to its unforeseen nature, the synodal decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to revoke the Tomos of 19th June 1999 calls for profound reflection within the Archdiocese. Nevertheless, it is essential not to over-react in response to this decision. Indeed, as the Orthodox ecclesiology of great contemporary theologians, such as Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamum or Father Nicolas Afanassieff, teaches, it is around their diocesan bishop that communities and the faithful constitute the Church in its catholicity. “Several Orthodox synods produce encyclicals and directives relating to the internal affairs of a diocese, as if synods constituted a ‘higher’ authority in the Church. Some Orthodox theologians even put forward the view that the synod is the supreme authority in the Church, thus creating a hierarchy with the diocese at its base, above which is the regional synod and the ecumenical council representing the highest level.
Do a council or synod form a structure located above the bishop? The answer to this question can only be negative from an ecclesiastical point of view. Ecclesiologically speaking, there is nothing superior to the bishop in the Church” [The Bishop according to Orthodoxy, in the book by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamum, The Church and its Institutions, Paris, 2011, pp. 386-387]. Therefore, in order to be able to produce the authentic voice of the Archdiocese, we must remain united around the ruling Archbishop, His Eminence John of Charioupolis. In faithfulness to the original identity of the Archdiocese, this consultation around the ruling Archbishop will take place within the structures established by our statutes and approved by the Holy Synod: first within each parish or community, but also in statutory clergy-laity assemblies.
Any ecclesiastical decision, to be effective, must be formally received by the body which is subject to that decision, especially when the decision has not been sought by those who have to implement it. Archbishop John, as ruling Archbishop, will be able to respond to the synodal decision, respecting the catholicity of the Church and the statutes of the Archdiocese, only at the conclusion of the following deliberative procedure. Archbishop John invites the priests of the Archdiocese to a pastoral assembly on 15th December 2018, in order to consult with those who carry, with him, the spiritual burden of the parishes and of the faithful of the Archdiocese. Closely following the pastoral assembly, the Council of the Archdiocese will formally convene a General Assembly of the Archdiocese, in which all the clergy and lay representatives elected by parishes and communities take part; these are the member associations of the Diocesan Union.
Because it is rooted in Western European societies, the Archdiocese has assimilated certain aspects of Western culture, particularly an attachment to democratic values, the fundamental rights of people and the freedom of each individual, as well as the principle of adversarial debate prior to any decision. Clergy or communities who wish to leave the Archdiocese to join another episcopal jurisdiction than that of Archbishop John will have to proceed in accordance with canonical order, and request from their ruling Archbishop John of Charioupolis a letter of release.
Our preference, however, is for consultation and dialogue in truth, in a regular deliberative assembly of the whole Diocesan Union. It should be clarified that, at the canonical level, Archbishop John, as ruling Archbishop, did not request the repeal of the status of Exarchate, nor his own retirement. He remains thus fully in pastoral charge of the Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe. In anticipation of the answer that Archbishop John of Charioupolis will be able to give to His All-holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew of Constantinople and Their Eminences the Members of the Holy Synod, as fruit of the transparent procedure outlined above, the clergy of the Archdiocese are asked to continue the following liturgical commemoration: “For His All-holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew of Constantinople and His Eminence Archbishop John of Charioupolis, Archbishop of the Russian Churches in Western Europe”.
With confidence in the action of the Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, we invite all the faithful to pray for the prosperity of all the Churches of God.