OLD PROBLEMS SURFACE ANEW AT THE PATRIARCHAL CATHEDRAL
A CONTINUING LONDON RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PASTORAL TRAGEDY:
OLD PROBLEMS SURFACE ANEW AT THE PATRIARCHAL CATHEDRAL
The recent appeal of parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral at Ennismore
Gardens in London makes tragic but hardly new reading. Their request that a new parish
adhering to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in London be founded and given stavropegic status
directly under the Patriarchate in Moscow, outside the authority of the present ruling
bishop of the Surozh Diocese, has been rejected. This is hardly the first time that this
idea has been discussed, although it is the first time that a petition has actually been
heard in Moscow. The lack of pastoral care for members of the Patriarchal Church faithful to
the Russian Orthodox Tradition in London and elsewhere has been a well-known fact for over
twenty years. Unfortunately Metropolitan Kirill's answer, made public on 2 December (see
www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru), will do little to reassure those who addressed this
appeal to the Patriarchate in Moscow.
The fact is that for over twenty years those faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in
London have suffered from the lack of pastoral care. In the huge area of London and its
suburbs, with a population of twelve million people, there are only two Russian Orthodox
churches with clergy. The suffering was for long compounded by the refusal to open other
Russian Orthodox churches even anywhere near London which could have provided regular
pastoral care and parish life. In fact the whole of the south-east of England was concerned.
This pastoral disaster was worsened by the fact that these two churches were supposed to
provide pastoral care for both Russian faithful of the Russian Church and English faithful
We well recall twenty-two years ago being informed by a responsible person that anyone who
wanted to be faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition in England would either have to move
to London or else travel a lot - 400 miles per weekend was not unknown. At that time there
was no question of appealing to the Patriarchate in Moscow, for it was still
Communist-controlled. The result was that most people either left the Patriarchal Russian
Church for the Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) or else moved abroad. Others, especially
English Orthodox, left for the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Antioch, or else simply
stopped practising their Faith. Today, in a similar way, Protestant missionaries also move
among spiritually underfed Russian Orthodox immigrants, promising them free Russian TV and
other dubious benefits for a change of religion.
True, in recent years, thanks to the zeal of Archbishop Mark, the ROCOR parish in London has
been renewed, both by the building of a small Russian Orthodox church in a suburb to the
west of London and also by the arrival of many dozens of new faithful who have emigrated in
recent years from Russia. Congregations here regularly number sixty or more. Similarly, the
Patriarchal Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens in the prosperous south-west of London, has also
been renewed by the emigration of Russians from Russia. Congregations here often number two
or three hundred. However, according to many there are now some 160,000 Russians in London!
The short-sighted policy of the Surozh Diocese in the seventies and eighties of deliberately
refusing to open other churches in London is now bearing its fruit. Despite the pleadings of
many, it was said at that time that no other churches would be opened. Ennismore Gardens
would hold the monopoly and the appropriate infrastructure to build up the church in the
London area and open other parishes was rejected. And that at a time when it was possible to
obtain suitable buildings relatively cheaply. Today, with the London area's astronomical
property prices, what was possible then is now virtually impossible. As Metropolitan Kirill
rightly says: 'We have neither the personnel nor the finance'.
Most Russians in London today appear to be gathered in the area of Stratford in east London,
near the Eurostar Station. Arriving from the Continent by train, here they find bedsits and
jobs, legally or illegally, as cleaners or building workers, whatever they can find to
escape poverty. Some manage to travel at great expense as far as the ROCOR church in the
distant west of London. There they feel at home, finding a church with the same practices as
those in Russia, even though it is not Patriarchal in jurisdiction but under ROCOR.
Some manage to travel as far as the Patriarchal Ennismore Gardens Cathedral, but there they
find a church with practices that they, like other traditional Russian Orthodox in this
country, do not know. Metropolitan Kirill states that these practices are not the result of
a deliberate policy to move away from the Russian Tradition, but are due to a lack of
knowledge and understanding of 'the soul and problems' of Russian Orthodox faithful. These
words echo the experience of many others down the decades, not only of Russians but of
others of all nationalities.
Indeed in twenty years little appears to have changed. There must be some who bitterly
regret the missed opportunities of the past and the zeal of the faithful which was ignored
and despised. In the words of Metropolitan Kirill, the Patriarchal Church can do nothing.
Neither can ROCOR, which is doing its utmost to pay off the costs of its new church in the
western suburbs. Who will provide for the pastoral needs of 160,000 and also the English
Orthodox who are faithful to Russian Orthodoxy in the London area and who cannot be cared
In the absence of any help from cash-strapped Church hierarchies, the faithful are left to
pray for a miracle. Perhaps someone like the young Siberian orphan, oil tycoon and
multi-billionaire, Roman Abramovich could help? This summer he bought Chelsea Football Club
in London for £140 million and spent £110 million in four weeks on a few new players. A few
million pounds, a month's wage bill at the club, could buy or build one or two or three or
more Russian Orthodox churches in east London where the huddled masses of Russians live. It
could provide meeting rooms, accommodation for priests, a chapel for English Orthodox.
Perhaps a new Kronstadt could be born in the east of London. The bishops and the faithful
should perhaps ask him for help.
For over twenty years we have prayed for a miracle for Orthodox London. All we can do is to
keep on praying, praying that this pastoral tragedy will not continue for yet another
generation, that the spiritual needs of all those faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition
in London will yet be met.