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.

The Mansonville Schism

In April 2001, Bp. Varnava was suspended by an ukaze of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR for numerous serious canonical violations, including the "distortion of ecclesiastical discipline and disobedience to the Supreme Administration and for refusal to commemorate during the services the diocesan ruling bishop". Subsequently, Bp. Varnava failed to appear for a spiritual court hearing in May 2001. The Synod of Bishops declared that Bp. Varnava was under suspension until complete repentance and that all sacramental acts performed by him or anyone under his authority are incorrect and unlawful.

In November 2001, following the retirement of Metropolitan Vitaly, Bp. Varnava travelled to Mansonville, Quebec. There, he became the de-facto head of a new organization called the "Russian Orthodox Church in Exile" (ROCiE, also ROCOR (V)). He participated in the consecration of Archimandrite Sergius (Kindiakov) and hieromonk Vladimir (Tselischev) to the episcopate. On November 5, 2001, he was appointed by the ROCiE synod as ruling bishop of Cannes and all Europe, with elevation to the title of Archbishop.

However, in 2003 a full-blown conflict erupted in the ROCiE synod between Bp. Varnava and Protopresbyter Benjamin Zhukov, the rector of ROCiE's largest parish and secretary of the ROCiE synod. Bp. Varnava refused to particpate in the consecration of new bishops for ROCiE's parishes in Russia, which previously were administered directly out of Cannes. In response, the ROCiE synod issued a December 2003 ukaze suspending Bp. Varnava. Bp. Varnava accused Protopresbyter Zhukov of forging Metropolitan Vitaly's signature on the synodal document and suspended Zhukov. Not recognizing the validity of the ukaze, or all subsequent synodal actions, Bp. Varnava became de facto autocephalous.

In February 2006, the ROCOR Synod received a letter from Bp. Varnava, in which he repented of all illegal and uncanonical actions, including disobedience to lawful authority, unilateral acceptance of the title of archbishop, performing services and consecrations as a vicar bishop and while under suspension, and inciting schism. He confirmed that the ordination of Sergius (Kindiakov) was performed by him single-handedly because Metropolitan Vitaly was too ill to participate. He confirmed that other Mansonville ordinations were performed without his knowledge or agreement. And he requested to be accepted back into the ROCOR in his original title, as vicar bishop of Cannes under suspension.

The ROCOR Synod resolved to accept Bp. Varnava as a vicar bishop of Cannes and lifted all suspensions. However, he was placed in retirement, without the right of serving outside of the cathedral in Cannes, without the right of performing any ordinations, and without the right of participating in any ROCOR council or synod meetings. On July 2, 2006, Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan served at the Cannes cathedral together with Bp. Varnava, marking Bp. Varnava's reacceptance into the ROCOR.

The ROCOR Synod announced that the Cannes cathedral of the Holy Archangel Michael returned to the ROCOR together with Bp. Varnava, its rector. However, it soon became evident that the situation in Cannes was not clear-cut. Before petitioning to be reaccepted into the ROCOR, Bp. Varnava changed the Statute of the Cannes cathedral in order to ensure that the he could take the cathedral with him. However, a group of clerics lead by Protodeacon Herman Ivanov-Trinadtsatiy left for a self-proclaimed sect, the "Russian True-Orthodox Church (RIPTs)" and attempted to take the cathedral with them. A legal battle errupted in Cannes and, as of March 2007, a French judge ordered a restraining order against Bp. Varnava and priests loyal to him not allowing them to serve in the cathedral, where only reader services are now served. The final status of the Cannes cathedral, a monument of historical significance, will be decided in the French court system.