The Orthodox Church of the Gauls
Who are we?
What are our foundations?
What is our vision?
It might be worthwhile to clarify what we are, where we come from and where we are going.
First of all, we are not a new religious creation; we are not a “sect”. We are members of the Orthodox Church, more precisely of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, which is in communion with the Celtic Orthodox Church and the French Orthodox Church, and in a communion of faith with all the Orthodox Churches.
We are Orthodox, that is to say that we profess the Christian faith as expressed in all the writings of the Apostles and the Holy Fathers, in the Creeds and the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils of the whole Church, in the whole ascetic and liturgical tradition of the Early, Undivided Church. Equally far from any individualism or authoritarianism, the Orthodox Church is both a Church of tradition and of freedom at the same time. Above all, it strives to be a Church of love. It relies on no external power, nor on isolated efforts, but solely on divine grace and brotherly love in order to stay united and to give life to the members of the mystical Body of Christ. We do not proselytise. We respect and love all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Far from wanting to clash or compete, we pray that we can collaborate, wherever possible, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be preached to our parched and broken world. We deeply regret the fact the Christendom has been shattered and we pray that God will speedily restore our unity, so that the world will recognise us as his disciples by the love which we have for one another.
We feel that we are linked to the ancient “Orthodox” tradition of Western Europe, which was at that time called “The Gauls”, to the Europe of those centuries when the East and the West were not separated. Saint Irenaeus in the II century was the first great unifying link between the East and West, but the West also benefited from influence of the John Cassian, a monk who had lived for a long time in Bethlehem and in the deserts of the Thebaid and Scetis, where he had learned and experienced the Tradition, and who established two monasteries at Marseilles, modelled on those in Egypt. His example and his writings enriched all of western monasticism from that of Islands of Lérins in Provence and of the Fathers of the Jura through to the great Benedictine tradition, which endures up to our own time. Saint Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria and defender of the faith at the Council of Nicaea, who was exiled by the Roman Emperor to Trier, then one the great metropolises of the Gauls, was welcomed there with open arms by the local bishop, and it was at the request of the monks of the West that he wrote the “Life of Saint Anthony”, the model for all Christian monasticism.
The Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, Saint Denys, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Honoratus, Saint Geneviève, Saint Radegundis and so many others – these are some of the great names from the land of the Gauls with whom we wish to be linked. But we also feel very close to Saint Joan of Arc, to Blaise Pascal, to Saint Vincent de Paul or to Saint Theresa of Lisieux and to Charles de Foucault, that very recent Father of the Western Desert. We wish to feel that all that is good and great which the heart and mind of both yesterday and today’s Western Europe has created is ours too, we wish to offer it up to Christ, to see it in an Orthodox way.
For more than ten centuries, Western Europe was in a fundamental communion of faith with the Christian East in spite of the occasional incidents and quarrels which can be found in all “families”. Then followed a long separation (8 centuries), when both sides gradually lost much knowledge of the other.
The Russian emigration of the start of the 20th century was a reminder for the West of the existence of Orthodoxy, that is to say of a Christianity close to its origins. The West also witnessed the desire by certain Westerners to rediscover this Church of the 1st millennium, this Undivided Church, in its living and applied faith, in the splendours of its western liturgy and in its capacity for freedom in God, cleared of the additions and sediments deposited by the centuries and by the rationalising spirit over the last millennium.
This encounter brought about the resurgence of Western Orthodoxy. We are not the first Westerners to try to live out Orthodoxy in the modern age: in 1929 an initial parish was formed within the Russian Orthodox Church with this same scheme and with a French priest at its head, Father Lev Gillet, whose books were signed “A monk of the Eastern Church”.
A little later, in 1936, the torch was taken up, with the help of Father Lev, by Bishop Irénée Winnaert and his parish, still within the framework of the Russian Church, then by Father Eugraph Kovalevsky who gave substance to the scheme and to the experience of a Western Orthodoxy by restoring the ancient western Liturgy of Orthodox Gaul, based on the letters of Saint Germanus of Paris and by creating several parishes, grouped into one diocese of which he was the Bishop under the name of Jean of Saint-Denis from 1964 to 1970. On his death, his communities found a home within the Romanian Orthodox Church with their identity as Western Orthodox (that is to say with their ancient Liturgy of the Gauls) under the leadership of Bishop Germain of Saint-Denis, who was consecrated in 1972 by the Romanian Orthodox Church. The great difficulties in understanding which the Byzantine and Slav diaspora had when faced with the Western Orthodox experience, along with internal difficulties, led to strong church pressure being brought on the Romanian Church and brought about splits. People went to Romanian dioceses, then Serbian, or Coptic…. hoping to carry on the work of Western Orthodoxy there.
But the descendants of immigrants from Russian, Greece or the Balkans and their clergy had and still have great difficulty in understanding that one can profess the Orthodox faith and be Western. They often confuse faith with culture and want to impose the former by means of the latter.
The Roman Catholic hierarchy, for its part, does not always look favourably on these Christian communities which are both so ancient and yet so new: their very presence seems to challenge “religiously correct” ideas. For 70 years men and women have, in spite of many difficulties, tried to restore this Church of our Fathers in our de-christianised and secularised Europe: a Church which professes the faith and enthusiasm of the Early Church, which celebrates the ancient Liturgy of the Gauls, owing its birth to the genius of our culture with its multiple roots (Greek, Latin, Gallic, Merovingian…) before the imposition of church uniformity by the pope of Rome. But ultimately, after some years, at each attempt, the Eastern Orthodox Churches tried to abolish out the scheme for restoring Western Orthodoxy. So the Western Orthodox realised with time and through their ordeals that they could not expect any help from anybody apart from God and from themselves.
Therefore, with this realisation, we have decided to come together within the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, and no longer be dependant on the hierarchies of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, while recognising them as sister-Churches and keeping our hand extended towards them. However, we are not alone, because we have formed a communion of Western Orthodox Churches with the Celtic Orthodox Church and the French Orthodox Church.
While sharing the same faith, but rejecting what is often the authoritarian and conservative nature of the structure of the Churches as we know them, we wish to establish relations of love and respect, of collaboration and solidarity among ourselves. Within this new framework, at Gorze in the Moselle region, in the East of France, on the 17th of December 2006, we gathered around four Western Orthodox bishops in order to consecrate Father Michel Mendez, who had been up until then Abbot of the Orthodox Monastery of the Saint Michael of Bois-Aubry in the Touraine region, as bishop of the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, under the name of Grégoire.
This Orthodox Church of the Gauls, which by its history is so ancient, and yet so young in its recent resurgence, is for the moment made up of small parish communities in France and Belgium and offers to those westerners who so desire the chance to live out in this world Christ’s message, which is to still relevant, in the quest for love and depth, unity and diversity, while sharing Christianity’s original vision for the world and for humankind, in order to respond to the great challenges of our post-modern civilisation.
Admittedly we are at present just a small minority. Nevertheless this minority should be a real spiritual force, and that depends on each one of us. “The grain of mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds” says the Gospel (Matthew 13: 32). But the Gospel adds that the grain of mustard seed can become a tree where the birds of the air come and make their nests in its branches. Does God wish to make our grain of mustard seed grow? We do not know. What we do know is that we must strive to make ourselves more worthy of such growth. Without clashing with others, without pushing ourselves forward, we must seek the Kingdom of God in humility and charity. We must strive until this word becomes synonymous with two things in the eyes of those who discover Orthodoxy in us: belief in Jesus Christ, life in Jesus Christ.
This quick summary of the foundations of our communities and of the history of the Church will help you to understand better why and how we are both Orthodox and Western.
Western Orthodox Churches
Eglise orthodoxe des Gaules (E.O.G.) : http://www.eglise-orthodoxe.eu/
Eglise orthodoxe celtique (E.O.C.) : http://www.orthodoxie-celtique.net/
Eglise orthodoxe française (E.O.F.) : http://www.eof.fr/