History of the Archiocese



The Archdiocese is the legal successor and direct continuation of the “Provisional Administration of Russian Parishes in Western Europe” founded by Saint Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and entrusted to Archbishop Evlogy (by decrees of 8 April 1921, nos 423 & 424) with the agreement of Saint Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd who till then had jurisdiction over the religious institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church in western Europe (letter dated 21 June 1921).

Metropolitan Evlogy, who had been forced to leave Russia during the Civil War, had been charged since 1920, by the Supreme Ecclesiastical Administration in the South of Russia, with the care of the parishes in western Europe, and had been established first in Berlin, then in Paris (1922). During the summer of 1921 he visited the main parishes in western Europe, including the parish of the Dormition in London which was at that time in his jurisdiction. The following year he received a patriarchal decree from Moscow, dated 5 May 1922, ordering the dissolution of the Supreme Administration for the Church Abroad, centred in Sremski-Karlovci (Serbia), because of the political stance taken up by that Administration, and confirming Metropolitan Evlogy as being in charge of the Russian Orthodox parishes abroad. However, the Russian bishops in exile in Serbia disregarded the patriarchal decree, and set themselves up as a “synod abroad” which soon began to trespass on the canonical rights of Metropolitan Evlogy, especially in Germany. In 1926 there was finally a breach between him and the synod abroad. The conflict between the bishops caused disturbances in several parishes: some, in Germany and elsewhere, passed under the jurisdiction of the Synod of Karlovci; others, including that in London, found themselves split in two. Metropolitan Sergei of Nizhny-Novgorod, at that time temporarily occupying the patriarchal throne as locum tenens, when consulted said he was unable to settle the matter because foreign contacts were so difficult: he simply advised, in accordance with traditional Orthodox ecclesiology, that Russian emigrés who had settled in parts of the Balkans where there was a local Orthodox Church should seek full membership of those Churches, and that those who found themselves outside Orthodox countries should establish a local Church of their own.

In 1927 Metropolitan Evlogy had to face a new conflict, this time with the temporary occupant of the patriarchal throne. To demonstrate his support of Soviet authority, and hoping to obtain the legalization of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Sergei of Nizhny-Novgorod accused the clergy of the emigration of being counter-revolutionary, and demanded an undertaking of loyalty to the USSR. In reply Metropolitan Evlogy assured him that whilst he himself was completely apolitical, there could be no question of binding his clergy to the government of a State of which they were not citizens.

In 1930, when there occurred a new wave of bloody persecutions against the Church and the faithful in the Soviet Union, Metropolitan Sergei rebuked Metropolitan Evlogy for taking part in ecumenical gatherings in London and Paris to pray for the persecuted Christians of Russia, and at the same time denied in the international press that any persecution had taken place. Ordered by Moscow to resign, Metropolitan Evlogy refused to abandon the clergy and faithful who had been entrusted to him and who had given him their complete confidence. In response Metropolitan Sergei suspended Metropolitan Evlogy from his duties and put him under an interdict. The latter appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch, citing the 9th Canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council which recognized the Throne of Constantinople as a court of  appeal, and put himself under the protection of that Patriarchate, being anxious to hold together the communities that had been entrusted to him and to maintain their communion with the fulness of the Orthodox Church. Patriarch Photius II gave him his support in every point and took him under his obedience and appointed him Exarch of a “Provisional Exarchate for the Russian Parishes in Western Europe”. This position was confirmed by Patriarch Benjamin (in 1937 and 1939) and Patriarch Maxim (1947). At the end of the Second World War, like many Russian emigrés of the time, Metropolitan Evlogy felt irresistibly drawn to his native land where he expected to see a change in the political attitude of the Stalinist regime in religious matters and a renaissance of the Church. Suffering from ill health and hoping to be able to return to die in the country of his birth, he re-established communication with the Patriarch of Moscow, despite the opposition of many of the clergy and laity who did not trust the promise of the representatives from Moscow that they would respect the autonomy of the diocese, and who, for the first time, suggested establishing a local Orthodox Church. According to them, such an establishment would hard to reconcile with resuming membership of a national Church like that of Russia. The necessary agreement of the Patriarch Constantinople was sought, but had still not been received when Metropolitan Evlogy died in August 1946. His successor, Metropolitan Vladimir, supported by the Diocesan Assembly, rejected the diktat from Moscow, choosing instead to preserve the freedom of the diocese. During the thirteen years that he spent at the head of the Exarchate, Metropolitan Vladimir continued the work begun by his predecessor, Metropolitan Evlogy, in faithfulness to the Russian Orthodox tradition, which he himself fully embodied since he had been ordained before the Revolution, whilst at the same time being fully aware of the necessity to organize a truly local Church in the countries where Russian emigrés had been brought by Providence to witness to the Orthodox faith; and he accepted that this implied the use of western languages in worship where the need should arise. So it was that the Diocesan Assembly meeting under his presidency in 1949 sent out a prophetic message in calling for the unity of all the Orthodox settled in Western Europe, without distinction of ethnic or national origin, in the setting of a local Church: “Let us all join together, we and our Orthodox brethren, in one Church in the countries where God has led us. Let us put all our effort into building a united Orthodox Church in Western Europe”.

However, yielding to the pressure of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Patriarch Athenagoras I, in a letter dated the 22 November 1965, put an end to the administrative status of the diocese as a “Provisional Exarchate” of the Ecumenical Throne such as it had been since 1931. The General Extraordinary Assembly of 16—18 February 1966 stated that the hitherto “provisional” nature of its ecclesiastical structures no longer applied, since they comprised members of the third (and now even the fourth) generation descended from Russian or other emigrations now permanently settled in their adoptive countries, with a growing number of Orthodox of western stock. After a short period of transition for regularizing and bringing up to date the bonds that had always existed between the Archdiocese and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Archdiocese was fully integrated into the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a unified ecclesiastical organization with a special status of internal autonomy (charter of Patriarch Athenagoras I of 22 January 1971).

2. Present canonical and juridical status
This status was confirmed and enhanced in June 1999 with the restoration to the Archdiocese of the title of Exarchate by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Tomos of Patriarch Bartholomew I, 19 June 1999). This status has allowed the Archdiocese to keep its distinct liturgical and administrative character that has come down from the long and holy Russian Orthodox tradition, within the obedience of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. It has assured its freedom in the face of pressures from outside the Church and it contributes to the witness and the planting of the Holy Orthodox Faith in the countries of western Europe where the Archdiocese was settled by Divine Providence (Declarations of the General Assemblies of October 1949 and February 1966).

From the civil point of view the Archdiocese is subject within the Republic of France to the legislation in force governing religious affairs in that country and to the current statutes laid down by French authority. Thus, the Archdiocese is the authorized Union for coordinating Russian Orthodox associations, bringing together all legally established organizations of Orthodox origin, whether cultural or ecclesiastical.

From the ecclesiastical point of view, the Archdiocese is subject to the administrative authority and the spiritual, pastoral and moral direction of a diocesan Archbishop, who is entitled Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The present head of the Archdiocese is Archbishop Gabriel (de Vylder), a Belgian citizen, born on the 13 June 1946 at Lokeren near Ghent in Belgium. After joining the communion of the Orthodox Church in 1974, he was ordained priest in 1976 in Paris. He served at Maastrict in the Netherlands and at Liège in Belgium before becoming Auxiliary Bishop in 2001. Following the death of Archbishop Serge he was elected on the 1 May 2003 by a large majority of the Diocesan Assembly to be head of the Archdiocese. His election was confirmed by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the 3 May which raised him to the rank of Archbishop and Patriarchal Exarch.

The Archbishop is assisted in running the Diocese by the Council of the Archdiocese, consisting of 6 priests and 6 lay people elected by the Diocesan Assembly. The Diocesan Assembly, which is both clerical and lay, meets every three years. It consists of all the clergy of the Diocese and of lay delegates elected by the parishes. One of its chief functions is to elect the Archbishop and the auxiliary bishops, whose election is then confirmed by a vote of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as by the members of the Diocesan Council. The headquarters of the Archdiocese and the Archbishop is next to the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris (12 rue Daru, 75008). At the same address are the offices of the Diocesan Administration, in the persons of Professor Michel Sollogoub,  who is Secretary of the Council of the Archdiocese, and M. Ivan Cheret (Tcherepenikov), a retired company director, who is Treasurer of the Archdiocese.

In its pastoral, administrative and material life, the Archdiocese is completely autonomous and independent of the Greek Metropolitans of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the countries of Western Europe. The Archdiocese directly elects its Archbishop and his auxiliary bishops, who are thereafter confirmed by the Holy Synod of Constantinople. The Archbishop is not subject to any control or bound in any way, administratively or financially, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Archbishop takes part in the General Assembly of the Bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at two or three year intervals at Constantinople. He meets the Patriarch regularly enough to keep him informed about the life of the Diocese. The Archbishop also stays directly in touch with the primates and bishops of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches, without going through Constantinople. The Archbishop and his auxiliary bishops are full members of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France, a representative body set up for inter-Orthodox cooperation, to which all the canonical Orthodox bishops in France belong, including the bishop appointed by Moscow.

3. The present situation
More than 80 years after its foundation, the Archdiocese has become a multinational diocese, comprising around 120 parishes and monastic communities, served by 104 priests and 24 deacons, mainly in France, but also in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain and recently the United Kingdom. In France the Archdiocese is the most important Orthodox diocese, with 40 parishes, including the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris, the Cathedral of St Nicholas at Nice and the church of the Russian Cemetery of St Geneviève-des-Bois. Its composition throughout reflects the diversity and complexity of the situations with which Orthodoxy is familiar in the West: there are parishes of Russian emigrés worshipping in the religious vernacular of their country of origin, and right next to them parishes that attract the faithful of several nationalities, as well as completely western parishes, worshipping in various languages according to the countries where they happen to be. The vast majority of the clergy and faithful are now citizens of those countries and half the clergy are of western origin. In some parishes worship is entirely in Slavonic; in others it is in French (or German, English, Norwegian or Dutch), and in many places in two languages. There are attached to the Archdiocese the Institute of Orthodox Theology in Paris (the Institut Saint-Serge) as well as the convent of Notre-Dame-de-toute-Protection at Bussy-en-Othe, near Sens. The Archdiocese has an Internet website in Russian and French (and some Dutch) at www.exarchat.org.