Writing for the Independent, a UK newspaper, Paul Vallely looks at a legal battle over control of an Orthodox cathedral. The power struggle, he writes, began with an influx of Russian immigrants to the United Kingdom and their clash with an assimilated, diverse Orthodox community.
“Huge numbers arrived,” says one of the parishioners, Ruth Nares, a teacher who converted from Anglicanism two decades before because of what she describes as Orthodoxy’s extraordinary sense of sacredness. “We were a community of white Russians, Finns, French, Italians and English converts. But the incomers had a different mentality. To many, it was just a place to meet fellow Russians. They would come in halfway through service, talking loudly at the back, and started making lunch there.” Karin Greenhead, a musician, says: “There was a lot of unpleasantness and elbowing and pushing. It was noisy and unprayerful. There was even a fight outside the church.”
But it was not just the congregation that changed. Extra priests sent over by Moscow during the past six years imported an unwelcome world view, too. “Nearly every Sunday we were bombarded with Soviet-style propaganda and warnings that ‘the Devil is among us’,” says Nicholas Tuckett, the founder of Ikon Records, which markets recordings of Orthodox music. “I was finding it impossible to pray.”
The points at issue largely concerned the minutiae of church life. There were disputes about whether marriages could take place on a Saturday, how frequent communion should be, how strictly fasting rules were to be observed, whether women were obliged to wear headscarves in church or forbidden from wearing trousers.
But what lay behind all the nit-picking was a fundamental struggle for power. The Russo faction began to petition Moscow for reform to press the original community to become more Russian. Metropolitan Anthony’s anointed successor, Bishop Basil, asked Moscow to disassociate itself from what he saw as troublemakers. But in Moscow, Metropolitan Kirill, who was last month elected head of the entire Russian Orthodox Church, declined to reply.
Read “The Battle Over Britain’s Orthodox Church” in the Independent.