French Orthodox parishes following Russian tradition reunite with Moscow Patriarchate

A majority of the clergy and parishes of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, headquartered in Paris, has decided to unite with the Moscow Patriarchate, thus effectively bringing to an end divisions within the Russian Orthodox diaspora that had grown in the decades following the Bolshevik Revolution and the exile of many Russians. In 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) had decided to reconcile with Moscow, and the news service (October 7) reports that the Paris archdiocese is now following a similar road. During most of the years since 1931, the archdiocese had been under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (Ecumenical Patriarchate), enjoying a special status of internal autonomy, and had been elevated to the rank of an exarchate in 1999. Besides its French stronghold, it had parishes in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. In November 2018, however, the Holy Synod revoked its status and declared that the parishes should be absorbed into the local dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This was resented by many faithful, who felt that the specific identity developed in the archdiocese over the years—leading some of its members to see themselves as seeds of a future local Orthodox church— would be diluted in the process.

Different options were then explored, with few people favoring the decision of Constantinople. On September 7, an assembly reached a vote of 58 percent in favor of joining the Moscow Patriarchate, with the current Archbishop John (Renneteau) strongly supportive. While it did not reach the required majority of two-thirds of the delegates, the archbishop and a majority of the clergy decided to go ahead with the move. At the time of this writing, a majority of the parishes have followed, while others remain undecided or have decided to join the local dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or—in a few cases—the Romanian Patriarchate. For the Moscow Patriarchate, this represents a final symbolic step in completing its reunion with the Russian Orthodox diaspora. It remains to be seen how long three church administrations under the same Moscow Patriarchate will coexist in the same territory—those parishes under Moscow, those under ROCOR, and now those under the archdiocese. For the time being, it is likely that not much will change. Sooner or later, however, a merger is likely to take place. It also remains to be seen whether the Moscow Patriarchate would then revive an effort started by the late Patriarch Alexy II in 2003 to create a largely autonomous Metropolia of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe, which would represent an important step in the search for a governance structure for church life in countries outside the Orthodox world.