Archbishop John of Chariopoulis.
© AFP/Stephane de Sakutin
Archbishop John of Chariopoulis
Some 100 parishes of the Russian Orthodox tradition in France and other Western European nations are to become part of the Moscow Patriarchate after rejecting an order to dissolve given by Moscow's rival Constantinople.

The world of Orthodoxy is currently experiencing a tectonic change after a schism between its two leading branches, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The focal point of the conflict is Ukraine, which Constantinople claimed as its domain last year, in violation of centuries of tradition that kept it under Moscow. But the clash for loyalty of Orthodox priests is happening throughout the world, and Moscow seems to have scored a major win.

The Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox churches in Western Europe (AROCWE) was granted its request to come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchy, the Russia-based church reported on Saturday. AROCWE leader, Archbishop John (Renneteau) of Chariopoulis and any priest and diocese willing to join him, are to become part of a new branch of the Moscow Patriarchy, fully autonomous and self-governing.

The AROCWE today includes some 100,000 believers in 100 dioceses and has its headquarters in Paris. Originating as a diaspora of Russians living in Western Europe, they parted ways with Moscow after the Bolshevik Revolution put a strain on the Russian Orthodox Church. AROCWE splintered in the 1930s and was put under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. It made an aborted attempt to go back into Moscow's fold in the 1940s, underwent a number of reorganizations and ultimately got the status of an exarchate - a self-governing body based in a foreign land - under Constantinople in 1999.

The situation was sent into turmoil in November last year amid the schism over Ukraine. As part of its attempts to consolidate power, Constantinople ordered the AROCWE to dissolve and integrate into the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The autonomy-stripping order was overwhelmingly rejected in February during an extraordinary general assembly of the AROCWE, which decided it would change jurisdiction to another Orthodox patriarchy instead. The transfer was negotiated with several of them, before Moscow was finally picked last week. The decision was reportedly taken because the Moscow Patriarchy was the only one willing to grant Archbishop John, and his supporters among clerics and laymen, as much freedom to govern their own affairs as they wanted.

The change comes with a caveat. While the desire to preserve AROCWE as a body didn't pose any questions with over 90 percent of the assembly voting to reject Constantinople's diktat, re-establishing a canonical link with Moscow was far less popular. A majority voted for the plan, but it was short of the two thirds of the votes proponents sought to win. In a statement released on Saturday, Archbishop John said he chose to go for it nevertheless because it "allows us to preserve who we are."

Meanwhile Constantinople is challenging the incipient transfer. From its point of view Archbishop John was sacked in late August and the AROCWE petition to reunite with the Moscow Patriarchy was invalid, but its ability to enforce this stance is understandably limited.