Orthodox Church of the Gauls
Who are we?
What are our foundations?
What is our vision?
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
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.