Varnava (Prokofiev) of Cannes
Bishop Varnava (Prokofiev), retired, formerly Bishop of Cannes, vicar for the administration of the Western European diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is an extremely controversial figure in the history of the ROCOR, in particular because of his leading role in ROCOR's involvement in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s and subsequent schism following the 2001 Council of Bishops.
The future bishop was born Vladimir Nikolaevich Prokofiev in 1945 in Paris, France, to a family of Russian nobility emigres. He served obedience on Mt Athos before being ordained to the priesthood and becoming rector of St Michael the Archangel Cathedral in Cannes, France.
In 1980, in complete secrecy, by the decision of the Council of Bishops of the ROCOR, Priest Vladimir is consecrated Bishop Varnava and appointed to secretly serve the needs of the Russian Catacomb Church. In 1981, through connections at the French embassy in Moscow, Bishop Varnava clandestenly entered the Soviet Union, under the cover of a tourist visa. He then single-handedly consecrated Archimandrite Lazar (Zhurbenko) bishop for the Russian Catacombs. Archimandrite Lazar was part of a group of Russian Catacombists who joined the ROCOR in 1975.
In 1990, after a decision of the Synod of Bishops, Bishop Varnava openly revealed his episcopacy. At that time, he was appointed as Bishop of Cannes, Vicar for the Western European diocese. In 1992 the Synod sent Bishop Varnava to Russia for the purpose of organizing a Synodal epitropy in Moscow to administer ROCOR's growing number of Russian parishes. After entering Russia, Bishop Varnava immediately came under the influence of Protopriest Alexey Averianov (subsequently suspended by the Synod for bigamy), who became his secretary and assistant, helping the emigre bishop "acclamate" to the rapidly changing Russian social and political environment. In March 1992, Protopriest Alexey arranged a portion of the former Sts Martha and Mary covent of mercy (which at that time housed a state-run hospital) to be converted for church use. It became the Synodal epitropy (representation) in Russia and headquaters for Bishop Varnava. At the same time, because of Averianov's connections, it also became the unofficial headquaters of the Patriotic-Nationilist front "Pamiat" (Remembrance), a far-right Russian extremist group. On March 19, 1992, a press conference was held at the convent, at which Averianov announced Bishop Varnava's and Metropolitan Vitaly's endorsement and alliance with Pamiat. It later turned out that Metropolitan Vitaly knew nothing of this announcement. Then, in May 19, 1992, Bishop Varnava participated in Pamiat's public demonstration in Moscow.
Bishop Varnava's involvement with Pamiat quickly irrevocably hurt ROCOR's reputation in Russia. The democratic press, previously supportive of ROCOR as an alternative to the "communist" Patriarchate became highly critical of its perceived affiliation with marginalized far-right groups. In addition, Averianov's meddling in the affairs of other ROCOR dioceses in Russia lead to full blown conflict between Bishop Varnava, Lazar (Zhurbenko), and Valentine (Rusantsev), the other ROCOR bishops in Russia, which placed ROCOR's affairs in Russia into total disarray. Metropolitan Vitaly repeatedly distanced himself from the actions of the Martha and Mary Covent of Mercy and his vicar, Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan travelled to Moscow and gave an interview to the Russian journal Ogonek (the Little Light)