European Russian Orthodox stuck between Constantinople and Moscow
by Stefano Caprio

The churches of Russian emigration were under the protection of the Patriarch of Constantinople during the Soviet period. After the break between Bartholomew and Kirill, they risk being absorbed into the Greek Byzantine world. The risk of losing the Russian identity. A Letter from Metropolitan Joann to Bartholomew I.


Rome (AsiaNews) - The Patriarchate of Constantinople has suspended a divinis father Dionisij Bajkov (see photo) for three months. The Orthodox priest was serving in San Remo at the historic church dedicated to the Most Holy Savior, Saint Katherine and Saint Seraphim of Sarov. It is one of the churches of the Russian archdiocese that was suppressed last November by the ecumenical patriarchate, who were told to stop commemorating their Archbishop, to join the clergy of the Greek metropolises, to consider the parishes and communities as part of these metropolises , and finally to deliver all the required documents and parish registers.

The suspension was decided by Metropolitan Gennadios (Zervos), head of the Greek Orthodox in Italy, based in Venice. Father Bajkov ignored his directives, and continued to commemorate the Archbishop of Paris Ioannis of Chariopoulis, born Jean Renneteau, a 76-year-old Frenchman born in Bordeaux, who represents the historic "French orthodoxy" originating from the Russian emigration of the following years to the revolution. Furthermore, the parish priest of San Remo did not attend the meeting convened in Venice on 23 January. Like him, other priests in Italy also deserted the convocation to Venice, and further suspensions and threats are expected for days.

The church of San Remo is perhaps the most famous among the Italian Orthodox churches; as Father Dionisij himself reiterated in an interview with Nezavisimaja Gazeta, "is the city's visiting card, and is shown on all tourist maps, which is why it has long been targeted by the Greeks. To avoid controversy, we will keep it closed until February 23rd, when there will be the assembly of our Archdiocese ". The parish priest also added that he is ready, if necessary, to "lock the doors". Other priests, 10 in total, that make up the exarchate of Paris, have decided to abstain for the next month from all the liturgical celebrations.

The conflict between Greeks and Russians in Europe will not be easily resolved given the different sensibilities of the two ethnic Orthodox communities. The coexistence under the Constantinopolitan jurisdiction dates back to the period after the revolution, when the Russian emigrants found welcome in part in the ecumenical patriarchate, but was reactivated in an explosive way after the quarrels between Moscow and Constantinople in recent months, which led to the creation of the Ukrainian autocephalous Church (there are many Ukrainians and Moldovans among the "European Russians").

Last September, as soon as the news was released that Bartholomew would grant autonomy to the Ukrainians, some priests of the European Russian community began to agitate. Already in October, Archpriest Georgi Blatinskij, in service at the other prestigious Nativity church and St. Nicholas in Florence, had announced the decision to leave the Greeks to return under the authority of the patriarchate of Moscow. Probably to cut off all controversy, in November the Russian archdiocese was suppressed, eliminating any ambiguity between Greeks and Russians in the patriarchate structures.

Faced with this unexpected turnaround, at the end of December the patriarch of Moscow Kirill made the decision to restructure the network of Russian churches in European countries, appointing the young bishop Ioann (Roščin), recently sent to Italy, with the title of metropolitan Korsun and all of Western Europe, based in Paris. One of the purposes of this appointment is precisely the desire to attract Russian priests to the Moscow jurisdiction, disappointed by Constantinople, which in part date back to the post-revolutionary diaspora, but in part still greater they had escaped from the Muscovite patriarchate.

The Assembly of the now ex Greek-Russian Archdiocese will take place next February 23, which will have to decide whether to subject itself to Constantinople and lose its identity, or seek an agreement with Moscow, hoping to preserve at least a semblance of autonomy. Meanwhile, Bishop Ioann of Charioupolis has sent a dense and respectful letter to Bartholomew, which traces the history of the European Russian community and defends the reasons for a very particular ecclesiological vision.

The European Russians, in fact, have tried in this century to keep the Russian identity, which seemed to have been canceled by the Soviets at home, intact, through the Byzantine tradition and integration into democratic and secularized Europe. Fidelity and innovation, two concepts difficult to harmonize even for Catholics and Protestants, all the more so for a Church that is often defenseless in the face of history and politics, like the Orthodox Church, which is now being tested again like never before.

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