Varnava (Prokofiev) of Cannes

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His Grace, the Right Reverend Varnava (Prokofiev) was the auxiliary Bishop of Cannes in the administration of the Western European diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Now retired, Bp. Varnava is an extremely controversial figure in the history of the ROCOR 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 of ROCOR.


The future bishop was born Vladimir Nikolaevich Prokofiev in 1945 in Paris, France, to a family of Russian nobility émigrés. He served obedience on Mount Athos before being ordained to the priesthood and subsequently becoming rector of St Michael the Archangel Cathedral in Cannes, France.

The Controversy

In 1980, by the decision of the Council of Bishops of the ROCOR, made in complete secrecy, Fr. Vladimir was consecrated Bishop Varnava and appointed to serve secretly the needs of the Russian Catacomb Church. In 1981, through connections at the French embassy in Moscow, Bp. Varnava clandestinely entered the Soviet Union, using a tourist visa as cover. He then single-handedly consecrated Archimandrite Lazar (Zhurbenko) a bishop for the Catacomb Church. Archimandrite Lazar was a member of a group of Russian Catacombists who joined the ROCOR in 1975.

In 1990, after a decision of the Synod of Bishops, Bp. Varnava openly revealed his episcopacy. At that time, he was appointed 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, who became his secretary and assistant, helping the émigré bishop "acclimate" to the rapidly changing Russian social and political environment. Protopriest Averianov subsequently was suspended by the Synod for bigamy. In March 1992, Protopriest Averianov arranged for a portion of the former Ss Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy to be converted for church use and become the Synodal epitropy (representation) in Russia as well as headquarters for Bp. Varnava. At that time the former convent housed a state-run hospital. At the same time, through Fr. Averianov’s connections, it also became the unofficial headquarters of the Patriotic-Nationalist front "Pamiat" (Remembrance), a far-right Russian extremist group. On March 19, 1992, a press conference was held at the convent, at which Protopriest Averianov announced the endorsement and alliance with Pamiat of Bp. Varnava and Metr. Vitaly . It later turned out that Metr. Vitaly knew nothing of this announcement. Then, in May 19, 1992, Bp. Varnava participated in Pamiat's public demonstration in Moscow.

Bp. Varnava's involvement with Pamiat quickly and irrevocably hurt the reputation of ROCOR 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 led to a full blown conflict among Bishops Varnava, Lazar (Zhurbenko), and Valentine (Rusantsev), the other ROCOR bishops in Russia. This placed ROCOR's affairs in Russia into total disarray. Metr. Vitaly repeatedly distanced himself from the actions emanating from the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy. His vicar, Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan was sent to Moscow and gave an interview to the Russian journal Ogonek (the Little Light)

In mid 1993, Bp. Varnava wrote to the head of the self-proclaimed Kiev Patriarchate asking for eucharistic communion to be established between it and the ROCOR. This letter forced the Synod to respond by removing Bp. Varnava from his position as Synodal Representative in Moscow. Bp. Varnava continued to serve at the Ss Martha and Mary Convent before being ousted by members of Pamiat, who decided to return to the Moscow Patriarchate. After briefly serving in Valischevo village near Moscow, Bishop Varnava returned to France.