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The Russian Orthodox Exarchate in Western Europe

After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, many Russian Orthodox faithful and clergy found themselves in exile outside the Soviet Union. A group of Russian Orthodox bishops met in Constantinople in 1920 to form an autonomous church that would reestablish relations with the Moscow Patriarchate as soon as conditions allowed. This provided the nucleus of what would become the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate only in 2007.

This Synod of bishops, which took a strongly anti-communist political position, was condemned by Patriarch Tikhon, who in 1921 appointed Metropolitan Evlogius as his legitimate representative in Western Europe, based in Paris. In 1927 the Synod suspended Metropolitan Evlogius and broke communion with him. This effectively split the Russian émigré community in Europe between those loyal to the Synod in exile and those loyal to the Patriarchate through Evlogius.

In 1928 Metropolitan Sergius (then patriarchal locum tenens) called on all Russian bishops to refrain from political activity and to recognize the Soviet regime. Evlogius initially accepted this, but in 1930 he took part in an Anglican prayer service in London for persecuted Christians in the Soviet Union. In response, Metropolitan Sergius removed Evlogius from office and appointed another bishop for patriarchal parishes in Western Europe.

Most Russian Orthodox bishops and faithful of this jurisdiction remained loyal to Evlogius, however, and considered Metropolitan Sergius’ call for acceptance of the Soviet regime unacceptable. Evlogius then petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s assistance, and in 1931 Patriarch Photius II received Evlogius and his followers under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. Since that time the Russian Archdiocese has become a multi-cultural jurisdiction, now composed of about 100 worshiping communities and one monastery served by 66 priests and deacons. Centered in France where it is the largest Orthodox group, the Archdiocese also has communities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Spain.

Relations with the Russian Orthodox Church have improved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the first time since it was received into the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1931, an official delegation from the Archdiocese visited the Moscow Patriarchate in November 1994. This was followed by a historic visit of Archbishop Sergius (died 2003) to the Russian Orthodox Church in May 1995. Relations are now friendly, and in practice the Archdiocese is in full Eucharistic communion with the Moscow Patriarchate.

In June 1999 the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted the Archdiocese the status of Exarchate, a rank it had held between 1931 and 1965. The Archdiocese was henceforth to be governed by its own set of statutes approved by the Patriarchate. In practice, the Archdiocese elects its own Archbishop and auxiliary bishops, who must then be confirmed by Constantinople. The Archbishop is independent of the Patriarchate in administrative and financial matters, but he takes part in the General Assembly of the Bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at two or three year intervals and meets with the Patriarch regularly to keep him informed about the life of the Archdiocese.

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