The Theological and Spiritual Foundations of the Return to the Icon.

St Basile

Saint-Photius Brotherhood

        The Brotherhood was founded by Alexis Stavrowsky probably in 1923 (2)... The young Vladimir Lossky took an active part on his arrival in Paris in 1924 (3)... Apparently from 1925 some students of the new Saint Sergius Institute joined them, among whom were Nicolas Sakharov, Vsevolod Palachkowsky as well as Eugraph Kovalevsky who also attracted his two brothers Maxime and Pierre. They were convinced of the providential aspect of the dispersion of Orthodox people throughout Europe that was caused by the revolution: "God wanted the Orthodox emigration to Europe so that it could bring the light of Orthodoxy, which had lost interest in the West a thousand years (4). earlier". Orthodoxy can alone "draw out the tradition of the undivided Church from ever-living latent local sources, buried since the schism under historic misunderstandings(5)" « … Very soon, the Members of the Brotherhood (...) found that, to build on the tradition inherited from the Apostles, the only possible attitude was an acute awareness of canons, not because of blind rigour, but for greater discernment, a clear-sightedness with no compromises of any kind. This is why on the basis of common agreement, in 1931, the Saint-Photius Brotherhood refused to leave the Russian Church, not wishing to involve in its decision any political or even merely human consideration, such as the impossibility of communicating with the Patriarchate at that time »(6).

       Here is the manifesto of the Brotherhood:

       " We proclaim and confess that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church of Christ; That She is not solely Eastern, but She is the Church of all the peoples of the earth - that of the East, the West, the North and the South; That each people, each nation has its personal right in the Orthodox Church, in her autocephalous, canonical constitution, in the preservation of her customs, rites, and liturgical language. United in canonical dogmas and principles, the Churches espouse the people of each locality.

       We oppose and condemn any attempt:

       1) to limit the Orthodox Church;
       2) to separate the Churches one from another;
       3) to submit one Church to another more powerful Church (7) .

       We confess unity in multiplicity and freedom, in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. » (8)

       This is what Vladimir Lossky (9) had to say at the time on the patronage of Saint Photius: "The aim of the Brotherhood is defined in paragraph one of its statutes as serving the universal triumph of Orthodoxy… It was not by chance that the name of Saint Photius, this great defender of Orthodoxy, became for us the symbol of our service to the Church. In the face of the heterodox world and dogmatic uncertainty of many Orthodox people, it has to firmly confess Orthodoxy - the unique universal Truth, from which the Roman patriarchate has separated… Christian unity can be achieved only by confessing Orthodoxy which must be reborn in the West(10). . Time has passed and in the new historical perspective, the great Photius, so unjustly forgotten by the Orthodox, appears again, in his crucial policy, at the crossroads of the historical destiny of the Church and of the world."(11).

       The Brotherhood has thus two main objectives: "to revive the ecclesial conscience of Orthodox emigrants and bring the West back to the Orthodox Tradition while respecting its underlying identity, in a word, to give rise in France to genuine Western Orthodoxy "(12). Let Vladimir Lossky speak again, in a statement to the Brotherhood on 18 June 1937, when he gives an outline of the history of the movement: "In 1926, the Brotherhood acknowledged the necessity for Orthodox people residing in the West to study and venerate the orthodox traditions of the soil on which, by Divine Providence, we have to live. The maxim "everything that is prior to 1054 is ours" was proclaimed. People studied the lives of saints, pilgrimages were organised and a calendar of the Orthodox Saints of France was started. "In 1927, when Evgraph Kovalevsky became the head of the Saint Irenaeus section, he formulated the major goal of this subdivision of the Brotherhood as an effort aimed at the emergence of Western Orthodoxy. From then on, the necessity of restoring the Western rite in Orthodoxy became manifest.

       "In 1928-1929, the Brotherhood was involved in the organisation of a French parish, a parish of the Eastern rite, that is true, but one that played its part in the cause of Western Orthodoxy, be it only by the interest it created in Russian church circles of the diaspora in the Orthodox mission in France (Paris, Nice, Strasbourg) dedicated to Western Orthodoxy. On many occasions, we have proclaimed that the primary religious duty of the Russian emigration was the mission among the peoples of the West. Such also was the thought of the Most Blessed Sergius of Moscow, expressed in his decree to Russian bishops of Karlovtsy.

       "In 1930-1931, at the moment of the separation of Metropolitan Eulogius from the Russian Church, when canonical issues came to the fore, a canonical definition for the forthcoming Western Orthodoxy became necessary. In broad terms, it was formulated as follows: the ecclesial territory of the West as such belongs to the Roman Patriarchate. Therefore, none of the local Churches of the East, nor the Church of Constantinople or the Russian Church, can make this territory its own by creating new dioceses on it (for instance: the diocese of Paris, of Rome, etc. …) A local Church of the West can be born only on the very soil of the West, as a result of a mission, that of a restoration of Western Orthodoxy with its traditions, its rite, its spirituality, the cult of its local saints. This goal, which will probably be achieved only by future generations, demands a co-operation of Orthodox people of different nationalities living in France and governed by legitimate Exarches of their Mother Churches. Once again, this formulation follows the line of thought of Metropolitan Sergius of Moscow who, while rebutting the pretensions of Metropolitan Eulogius (13), based himself on the same principle: the impossibility for a local Church of the East of establishing a normal diocese on the former territory of the Roman Patriarchate (14).

       "In 1932, at the Brotherhood congress called in Monfort (15), (…) (…) an appeal was launched to the Orthodox people of the diaspora to unite in the great cause of the restoration of Western Orthodoxy …" (16)

       The "Saint Irenaeus Domain", established in January 1926, with Eugraph Kovalevsky heading it from 1927 on, began the drawing up of Orthodox liturgical texts on the basis of Western texts. A "Commission de France", on the other hand, dealt exclusively with the translation of Eastern texts into French.

       Albeit very far from any kind of "Orthodox propaganda among the French (17) " and solely concerned with "denationalised Russians", Metropolitan Evlogius seeing that Slavonic texts were gradually becoming incomprehensible for emigrant children, gave his blessing to the establishment of a French-speaking parish for a strictly pastoral purpose; this was done on 3rd October 1927 with the sympathetic consideration of the Saint-Sergius Institute lecturers around Father Serge Bulgakov, who were favourable to all that could contribute to the ecumenical dialogue. The first Liturgy in French was celebrated on November 11, on Saint Martin's feast day. At that time, the parish counted 41 French people (18), but had no premises or assigned priest.

       Father Lev Gillet, a Benedictine received into the Church simply through con-celebration on May 25th 1928, would co-operate with the Brotherhood as the first French-speaking Orthodox priest (19), and was designated as the rector of the "Transfiguration and Saint Genevieve" parish on November 26th 1928. In the manifesto published in 1929 in the first issue of "La Voie" newsletter, he formulated well the general stance of the Brotherhood.

St Grégoire

       "If we fall within his Eminency Metropolitan Eulogius's (authority), it is not so much because he is the leader of the Russian Orthodox in Western Europe, but (according to the canons) because he is the nearest bishop to our burgeoning community. It is possible and even normal that French Orthodoxy will become autonomous when it reaches a certain level of development. And since Orthodoxy is neither Byzantine nor Slavic, but universal, it is up to Western Orthodox people to create a kind of Orthodoxy proper to the West, which might noticeably differ on some points from the Eastern type, because of a return to local traditional sources. (…). French by nationality or language, we feel related to the ancient "Orthodox" tradition of France, the "very Christian" France of the centuries when the East and the West were not separated... Saint Irenaeus (who is the link between the East and the West), the martyrs of Lyon and Vienna, Saint Denys, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Genevieve: these are some of the great names that we want to relate to. Yet Saint Louis or Joan of Arc or Pascal will not feel foreign to us. And we also want to make our own, consecrate to Christ and make Orthodox all good and great things that French hearts and minds are creating today (…). We must aim at a situation in which those who discover Orthodoxy in us see this word as a synonym of two great things: believing in Jesus Christ and living in Jesus Christ.(20).

       In 1929, the first French layman, Father Georges Jouanny, was ordained a priest. "In addition to the rapid growth of French Orthodoxy, 1929 was marked by the meeting of the Brotherhood on the day of Saint Leo, pope of Rome, with the aim of discussing issues related to Western Orthodoxy. Three liturgies were celebrated on that day in the Brotherhood's Church (in Saint-Cloud): a Roman liturgy, a Gallican one according to Vladimir Guetté's text approved by the Holy Synod in 1875 as well as Saint John Chrysostom's liturgy in Latin ; the Brotherhood studied dogmatic, (…), canonical (…) and liturgical questions: it was acknowledged that in order to promote the revival of Orthodoxy in the West, it was necessary on one hand, to adopt absolute intransigency on the dogmatic level (21), and on the other, on the liturgical level, to consider the realisation of fully Western traditions." (22)

       This "absolute intransigency on the dogmatic level" also characterised the position of Father George Florovsky as much in the work carried out in Paris at the Saint-Sergius Institute as in his participation in the "Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius", and, combined with the great openness of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, has proved to be of extraordinary efficiency from an ecumenical and spiritual point of view. France, on the contrary, was subjected to Fr. Serge Bulgakov's policy of dogmatic compromise, which exacerbated the current situation of spiritual fragmentation between Orthodox jurisdictions standing further apart from each other than from different Christian confessions themselves (24).

       This fidelity to patristic Orthodoxy, that is, to the living Tradition, this "love of Truth" is called today by some "fundamentalism (25)". This expression is a complete anachronism and was meaningless at that time. At that time, there were on one hand, the Russian Orthodox who were concerned with Russians only and considered Orthodoxy as a purely national issue: a French person was Catholic by definition, a Russian was Orthodox by definition, whatever the theology - so that in a movement like ACER for example, that had all the qualities apart from that of being interested in Westerners and the French in particular - and Russians would participate in ecumenical movements without giving it another thought. On the other hand, there were those who took an interest in Westerners and, from a spiritual point of view, were interested in Western culture and piety. These people, who at the time were the few members of the Saint-Photius Brotherhood (26), wanted to bring people's attention to the treasure of Orthodoxy. They wanted to share Christianity in its fullness with all those who had been deprived of it since the Schism of 1054 and, long before that, by the domination of Augustinian theology in the West.

       "On the 11th November 1930, the day of Saint Martin of Tours, a great victory of a symbolic nature was won at the Cathedral church of Saint Alexander Nevsky: a liturgy was celebrated in French by Metropolitan Eulogius and four French priests."(27) The church was full of French people who were Orthodox or close to Orthodoxy.

       Alas, the consequences of the tragic events in Russia were going to disrupt the progress of the undertaking.

2) And not on February the 11th 1925, as affirms Vincent Bourne (that alas we have followed in the French edition of our book), La divine contradiction, L'avenir catholique orthodoxe de la France, Paris, 1975, p 80.

3) We owe these information to Mr Nicolas Lossky.

4)Eugraph Kovalevsky, « Ma vie », quoted with no specific reference in Vincent Bourne, 'La divine Contradiction', I, L'avenir catholique orthodoxe de la France, Paris, 1975, p. 101

5) Maxime Kovalevsky, « Témoignage », in Jean de Saint Denis, in memoriam, Paris, Présence Orthodoxe (not dated), p.20.

6) Catherine Aslanoff, « Le Père Grégoire Krug », in Carnets d'un peintre d'icônes, p. 28.

7) It targets Roman centralism as well the unfortunate situation of the Gallican Church, which Charlemagne had absorbed by the Latin Church. On this subject, see Lossky's excellent page on the conflict between Gallicanism and Latin universalism in Sept jours sur les routes de France, Juin 40, p.53-54 ((see also p. 38-39 ).

8) Text quoted in Bourne, op. cit., P. 78.

9)V.Bourne asserts, and this in a wrong manner, (la divine contradiction, I, p.86) that he became a member of the Brotherhood only on May 11th 1928.

10) The emphasis is ours.

11) Letter to E.Kovalevsky, probably of the end of 1924 or the beginning of 1925, quoted undated in Bourne, op. cit. I, p.79.

12) Alexis van Bunnen, « Une Eglise Orthodoxe de rite Occidental, l'E.C.O.F », « mémoire de licence en histoire », Faculté de Philosophie et lettres, Louvain, 1981, (typed) p.84.

13) to establish an independent diocese of his Mother Church, in Western Church.

14) For an interesting commentary on this text, see Alexis van Bunnen, op.cit, p. 85, footnote n° 9; as to its present-day significance, see Olivier Clément, « Avenir et signification de la diaspora Orthodoxe en Europe Occidentale », Contacts n° 130 , 1978, III, p. 273-283, where the same ecclesiological principles are expressed.

15) A large village not so far from Paris where from time to time, in a private house, were celebrated orthodox Divine Services.

16) Vladimir Lossky's report dated June 18th 1937 to the Commission on the affairs of Western Orthodoxy (established on for administering Western Orthodox parishes after Mgr. Winnaert's death). Integral text in van Bunnen, op. cit., Annex n° 11, p. 61.

17) See Metropolitain Eulogius, Chemins de ma vie, Paris, 1947, in Russian, p. 542-544.

18) Number given in Bref historique de l'Orthodoxie Occidentale en France entre 1925 et 1931, excerpt from the report sent to Moscow in 1947 by Father E.Kovalevsky and Saint-Photius Brotherhood, in van Bunnen, op.cit., Annexe 11bis, p.72.

19) This, of course, after Father Vladimir Guetté; but several decades set apart the latter from the events that we relate here, without we may establish any direct bond.

20) Integral text in Elizabeth Behr-Sigel, Un moine de l'Eglise d'orient, Paris, 1993, p. 199 and next.

21) The emphasis is ours.

22) Bref historique, van Bunnen, p.73.

23) See the article The testimony of the Church universal, in The Collected works, XIII, Ecumenism, A doctrinal approach, p. 165-167, in which Father George expresses in a precise way, and certainly under his influence, the ideas of the Brotherhood on the Orthodox mission, as much with respect to the world as in ecumenical meetings.

24) On this subject, see Aleksander Filonenko's article « The Russian Orthodox Church in Britain: Laity and Openness to the world », in Sourozh n° 78, December 1999, p. 29-30.

25) For instance, E.Behr-Sigel, op.cit. p. 182-183; p. 196; see also " La création de la première paroisse orthodoxe de langue française ", in issue 730 of La vie spirituelle dedicated to Vladimir Lossky, published in March 1999, in which Lossky is being credited with the principal role, p.68-69. See also a second version of the same discourse, given at the I.T.O. on February 28th, in S.O.P. supplement n°237, p.3, in which this time, however, Lossky does not seem to hold the same role.

26) To whom only Paul Evdokimov probably should be added, in a way.

27) Bref historique, op. cit. p. 73.

BackBack Next Page