A la lumière des derniers développements dans le litige qui oppose l'évêque Basile (Osborne) à la communauté orthodoxe russe de Londres, il est peut être opportun de rappeler un texte paru en juin 2006, alors que Mgr Basile avait pris la décision de quitter le patriarcat de Moscou. Depuis il a obtenu dune lettre dimissoire qui a régularisé sa situation canonique. Le problème "humain" reste cependant entier, l'action en justice le montre bien.

Blessed are those who visited the world at its fateful hour…

Nikita Krivocheine (Paris)

On Christmas Eve 1971 I found myself in London for the first time and for the first time I came to the Dormition Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. Six months earlier I left the Soviet Union, as it seemed then, never to return.

It did not occur to me to attend matins in a church not belonging to the patriarchal see. I was born in Paris and spent my early years there followed by twenty five unwilling years in the land of the Soviets. There I became a conscious anti-Communist – active within my limited capabilities. At that time I also became a parishioner who deeply loved Russian church. It is to this church that I owe my spiritual survival in the last years of Stalin’s life as well as later when I had to spend three years in prison camps and later still in the airless years of “stagnation”.

My loving gratitude to the Russian church was not blind. It so happened that during the sixties I came to know well much of the internal life and opinions of the then church leaders and their parishes. So that if I had to tell of all that was depressing and even repugnant in the history of that church under the Soviets I am afraid I would have had to expand the memory of my computer.

I hardly knew Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) then, merely saw him a few times in Moscow, but from afar. The Ennismore Gardens church was filled with Russian “first wave” émigrés of two generations as well as with “second wave” Russians, also of two generations. The idea of “new Russians” did not exist then and could have only been puzzling as the frontiers of the USSR were “firmly locked”. While English conversions to Orthodoxy had only just begun and any presence of the Catechumens was hardly perceptible. It was my first Christmas after leaving Moscow, my everyday life was unsettled, my parents were far away (shall I ever see them again?) and I did not have to think what to pray for. As for the church and the service it was as if I were standing in my own parish of St. John the Warrior in the Yakimanka Street in Moscow.

Towards the end of the service Archbishop Anthony started to read out Patriarch Pimen’s Christmas message. The authors of the message dealt swiftly with what the celebration signified and after the third paragraph went on to dwell in great detail on nuclear disarmament and the situation in the Middle East. I was filled with angry despair. Did I find myself in Britain – after risking a second term in the camps to get here – only to be subjected to the old odious propaganda on a joyous holy day in the temple of God? Even now I feel shame when I recall what violent negative emotions boiled up within me. “They” caught up with me, I thought, “they” were everywhere; a ranking churchman spoke for them here in Britain... Having read the official message of congratulations from Moscow “I’ll add a few words on my own behalf” Archbishop Anthony then said.

Much has been written and told of the intensity of his preaching and of the brilliance of his oratory. But at that time it was as if the Metropolitan had sensed that there was someone among his parishioners who was angry with what he had just heard and who was expecting something different.

He constructed his address around the idea of the “tragic character” of the Christmas night, explained what he thought was tragic about it and then continued: “This year we are experiencing the tragedy of this night: while we are praying and celebrating very many people in Russia are suffering in spirit and in flesh in Soviet political camps and are subjected to torture with drugs in Soviet special psychiatric hospitals. In particular, I am thinking of Vladimir Bukovsky. Very many people are tonight completely denied even the opportunity to attend a church.”

Joy does not come near to describing what I felt when I heard this from a « Moscow priest»… I don’t need to explain why.

There were many dedicated men of faith such as Archbishop Anthony or Archbishop Basil of Brussels and indeed many others who were brought by their faith, courage and inspiration to accept a reputation of “having sold out to the Soviets” among their fellow émigrés and even involuntary reading of essentially non-church words in a church. They did it because their personal presence within the Russian church bore witness in the West of the true faith of the Russian people and their travels home looked forward to what this church might develop into in a free future. They were bringing nearer the time of its renaissance. The renaissance that did happen.

With this Christmas address the late Archbishop Anthony turned himself into someone to whom I would feel close for the rest of my life. I had several talks with him later always sensing that his “discernment of spirits” was so profound that I felt almost awkward next to him. Once as he was personally baptising a newly born Russian London girl I acted as her godfather. At the time I was going through some hard inner upheavals and I allowed myself to tell him about them. His reply was like a prescription; I applied it and was grateful to him as I then started to slowly emerge from my gloom.

* * *

An instructive conference was held in the winter of in Paris dedicated to the life and spiritual heritage of Archbishop Anthony. It was useful for me to listen to what hieromonch Nestor (Sirotenko) had to tell so interestingly of the Archbishop’s early years in Paris, what Mrs Kirilova related of all he did in London and what the Eminent Basil (Osborn) told of present days church affairs. Archbishop Basil told us how Metropolitan Anthony, already gravely ill, exclaimed “At last!” when he heard the message of Patriarch Alexei II of the 1st of April 2003 proposing that a single metropoly be set up in Western Europe.

Shortly before his death Metropolitan Anthony wrote as he was introducing Bishop Basil to Patriarch Alexei: “He is faithful to his flock without limitations and he will serve our beloved Church faithfully” (March 2003). A little later in June, also talking of Archbishop Basil, he wrote: ”He does a lot of very complex work to restore the unity of Surozh and its loyalty to the Moscow Patriarchate…” I already mentioned Archbishop Anthony’s gift of the discernment of the spirits. Yet in this case how did it happen that he overlooked the truth? Truly, only the Lord is omniscient.

After the recent Easter Sunday the Easter actions, words, letters and messages on the part of Archbishop Basil (Osborn) plunged the Russian orthodox in Paris (and not just them alone) into a state of amazed despair. Archbishop Basil is not of course able to mar the unexpected joy given to us by the providential and long expected rapprochement between two branches of the Russian church...
Words, documents and messages pouring in from London are confused and contradictory: first came assurances of loyalty to the Russian church, a fortnight later there was a declaration of intention to pass under the omophorion of Constantinople and finally we had a disrespectful questionnaire sent as a postscript to the Patriarch himself…

It is not simple to penetrate the motifs and logic of Archbishop Basil’s clearly disturbed mind as you read this: “I’d like to make it quite clear that I fully support the unity of the Russian church in Western Europe and believe that the present step represents the best way to achieve this long term goal.”
I do have my respect for his holy office. I also have my sympathy for someone being torn apart by disparate forces which are probably alien to him. But when I look at these contradictory statements I cannot help recalling the words of a character from Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life Ivan Denisovich”: “I am amazed and I anathemise!”

What are we supposed to think? That life was easier with the Iron Curtain intact? Safely traveling to Moscow and Zagorsk as a member of a delegation? While return delegations were not all that numerous and did not cause much trouble? And during the services at the Yelokhovsky Cathedral the orthodox babushkas were kept neatly apart so as not to get any whiff of their ritualism and prejudices… The church calendar also arrived regularly from Chistyi Pereulok with its modest appearance and despite short prints. All peace and quiet and not even in Count Potemkin’s dreams did church villages like that ever appear.

But once the Berlin wall and Mr Kuroyedov’s spot disappeared then instead of the babushkas there suddenly appeared in London girls with uncovered heads and young men, with their jackets all unbuttoned, heavy gold crosses on their chests. Why, you could not even sing a psalm in English in front of them, they would not get it as they would not take in either Florenski or Berdyaev.

The way it worked out the liberation of Russia, the invention of the relics of Blessed Seraphim, the opening of monasteries, the flourishing of faith among the people, the development of orthodox book publishing, free travel for Russians and not just for them alone – did all this only hurt the Church and disturbed the warm and comfortable routines of Londoners and Parisians? Would not it be more appropriate, gentlemen and venerable fathers, for you to bring back to mind your ancestors who perished on the Kuban, at Perekop and in the cellars of the Cheka?...

And if we mention a “mission” then perhaps it would be right to recall how it was carried out by tens of thousands of Russian émigrés who were miners in the north of France, thousands of Russian officers exiled to the tropics of Paraguay, to Tunisia, to Shanghai?

A generation will not have passed before the “New Russians” whom the “well bred” parishes in the EU countries find so shocking will start bringing their fellow students and neighbours in Oxford round to Russian orthodoxy.

Archbishop Basil suggests that we should “go apart to better unite later”, as Lenin taught us! “You, Russians, with your customs should be on your own while we (blue bloods as it were} shall head for Istanbul…” (BBC interview on the 17th of May): “No, they (i.e. the Russians) really should remain under the Moscow Patriarchate which possesses all that is needed to cater for this flock, i.e. the financial resources and the priests who come from Russia”.

But is Archbishop Basil not identical with the Moscow Patriarchate? It always seemed to me that the mission of a sheperd was not to lure sheep from “others”, but to care for his own flock holding them together.

I happened to have spent time in the same political prisoners camp as the future Metropolitan Korniliy of Tallinn and Estonia (a young Vologda parish priest then). He recently told me in Tallinn of the troubles that the Russian Orthodox church went through there and which then ended in unity.

«Blessed are those who visited this world at its fateful hour” (as a Russian poet put it). Let us pray that the twists and turns through which Archbishop Basil (Osborn) is passing today come to an end and that his route takes him back to the main road going through Moscow, Sergiyev Posad and the Russian orthodoxy, that the troubles of Surozh and Comane end and the wish that the Patriarch expressed on the 1st of April 2003 is fulfilled – with a single European metropoly of orthodox churches of the Russian tradition coming into being.

Rédigé par Nikita Krivochéine le 2 Mars 2009 à 10:33 | 16 commentaires | Permalien


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