The Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe has officially returned to the Moscow Patriarchate’s domain after defying an order from its rival Constantinople to dissolve.
Russia’s Patriarch Kirill presented the unity charter to Archbishop John (Renneteau) during a ceremony at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Moscow’s Patriarchate’s largest church. John, who shall remain in charge of the Western European parishes, was previously given the title ‘Archbishop of Dubna’.
“We ruled that John, the Archbishop of Dubna, shall be in charge of these parishes,” the charter reads, stating that his entity “is now an inherent part of Moscow Patriarchate.” At a special Sunday service in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, the Patriarch also elevated Archbishop John to the rank of Metropolitan.
The exarchate, known as the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe (AROCWE), was first formed by Russian emigrants – priests and faithful – who fled their homeland during the bloody civil war and chaos, which erupted shortly after the 1917 Revolution.
The Western European parishes that fell under the control of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople were united into a single entity back in 1931. At the very end of the 20th century, it was given vast autonomy by Constantinople which it enjoyed until recently.
Late in 2018, Constantinople abruptly reversed its own decision, revoking the autonomy and dissolving the AROCWE altogether. They argued that the reorganization would strengthen the archdiocese’s loyalty and ties to its “mother church.” The move backfired almost immediately when the AROCWE flatly ignored the orders from Constantinople, deciding to remain a united entity and ultimately seeking to rejoin the Moscow Patriarchate.
Back in September, the majority of parishes, governed by Archbishop John, voted for joining the Moscow Patriarchate. Still, they fell short of getting the two thirds of votes required to win – but Archbishop John decided to go for it anyway, calling upon the parishes to follow his lead. Those who are staunchly opposed to re-establishing a canonical link with Moscow are expected to fall under the governance of several metropolitans subordinate to Constantinople.
The decision was welcomed by Patriarch Kirill, who accepted Archbishop John’s offer. It came amid strained ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and Constantinople.
Last year, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew decided to recognize a new self-styled schismatic Ukrainian Church, granting it “independence” – that turned out to be full dependence on Constantinople instead.
This decision interfered with the traditional sphere of influence of the Russian Patriarchate, violating the centuries-old principle of non-involvement in each others’ affairs, observed by different Orthodox Churches. After having re-joined Moscow’s realm, the Western European parishes – now under the newly formed Archdiocese of Western European parishes of Moscow Patriarchate – will retain their broad autonomy, as well as local liturgical and pastoral traditions.