Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew of Constantinople
Kiril, Patriarch of Moscow
Pope Francis and Patriarch
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kiril
STATEMENT by the HOLY SYNOD of the RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONCERNING THE ENCROACHMENT of the PATRIARCHATE of CONSTANTINOPLE on the CANONICAL TERRITORY of the RUSSIAN CHURCH
WITH PROFOUND PAIN the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has taken the report of the Patriarchate of Constantinople published on October 11, 2018, about the following decisions of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: confirming the intention ‘to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church; opening a ‘stauropegion’ of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Kiev; ‘restoring in the rank of bishop or priest’ the leaders of the Ukrainian schism and their followers and ‘returning their faithful to church communion’; ‘recalling the 1686 patent of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the transfer of the Metropolis of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate as its part.
These unlawful decisions of the Synod were adopted by the Church of Constantinople unilaterally, ignoring the appeals of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the plenitude of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as sister Local Orthodox Churches, their primates and hierarchs to hold a pan-Orthodox discussion of the issue.
Entering into communion with those who deviated into schism and the more so with those who are excommunicated from the Church is tantamount to deviation into schism and is severely condemned by the canons of the Holy Church: ‘If any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any one in the Canon shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church’ (Council of Antioch Canon 2; Apostolic Canons 10, 11).
The decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople ‘to restore’ the canonical status and admit to communion former Metropolitan Philaret Denisenko excommunicated from the Church ignores a number of successive decisions of Bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church, the validity of which is beyond doubt.
By the decision of the Bishops’ Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which took place on May 27, 1992, in Kharkov, Metropolitan Philaret (Denisenko), for his failure to fulfil the promises he gave on oath at the cross and the Gospel during the previous Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, was removed from the see of Kiev and suspended.
The Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, by its Resolution of June 11, 1992, confirmed the decision of the Council of Kharkov and deposed Philaret Denisenko depriving him of all ranks of ministry according to the following accusations: ‘Cruel and arrogant attitude to the clergy under his jurisdiction, diktat and blackmail (Tit. 1: 7-8; Apostolic Canon 27; bringing temptation to the community of the faithful by his behaviour and private life (Mt. 18:7; the First Ecumenical Council Canon 3, the Sixth Ecumenical Council Canon 5); perjury (Apostolic Canon 25); public slander and blasphemy against a Bishops’ Council (Second Ecumenical Council Canon 6); exercising divine offices including ordinations in the state of suspension (Apostolic Canon 28); causing a schism in the Church (Double Council Canon 15). All the ordinations administered by Philaret in the state of suspension since May 27, 1992, and the suspensions imposed by him were recognized as invalid.
In spite of repeated calls to repentance, Philaret Denisenko after his deposition continued his schismatic activity, also within other Local Churches. By the decision of the 1997 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was anathematized.
These decisions were recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches including the Church of Constantinople. In particular, on August 26, 1992, His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in his reply to a letter from His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia wrote about the deposition of Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev, ‘Our Holy Great Church of Christ, recognizing the full and exclusive competence of your Most Holy Russian Church in this matter, synodically accepts the decision on the above’.
In His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew’s letter of April 7, 1997, to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II it is stated that ‘having received the notice about this decision, we have informed the hierarchy of our Ecumenical See about it and asked them henceforth to have no church communion with the these persons’.
Today, after more than two decades, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has changed its position for political reasons.
In its decision to justify the leaders of the schism and ‘legalize’ their hierarchy, the Holy Synod of the Church of Constantinople refers to non-existent ‘canonical privileges of the Patriarch of Constantinople to accept appeals of hierarchs and clergy from all the autocephalous Churches’. These claims in the form given to them today by the Patriarch of Constantinople have never been supported by the plenitude of the Orthodox Church, as they have no grounds in sacred canons and bluntly contradict in particular Canon 15 of the Council of Antioch: ‘If any Bishop… should be tried by all the Bishops in the province, and all of them have pronounced one decision against him in complete agreement with each other, let him no more be tried again by others, but let the concordant verdict of the bishops of the province stand on record’. These claims are also refuted by the practice of decision of the Holy Ecumenical and Local Councils and interpretations of authoritative canonists of the Byzantine and modern times.
Thus, John Zonaras writes, ‘The Patriarch [of Constantinople] is recognized as judge not over all the metropolitans but only those who are subordinate to him. For neither metropolitans of Syria, nor those of Palestine or Phoenicia or Egypt are summoned to his judgement against their will, but those of Syria are to be judged by the Patriarch of Antioch, those of Palestine by that of Jerusalem, while the Egyptian ones are judged by that of Alexandria who ordains them and to whom they are subordinate’.
The impossibility of receiving into communion a person condemned in another Local Church is stated in Canon 116 (118) of the Council of Carthage: ‘He who, having been excommunicated… shall go stealthily to overseas countries to be accepted into communion, shall be expelled from the clergy’. The same is stated in the canonical letter of the Council to Pope Celestine: ‘Those who were excommunicated in their diocese shall not be taken into communion by your Holiness… Whatever affairs may arise, they should be terminated in their place’.
St. Nicodemus of the Hagiorite in his Pedalion, an authoritative source on the canon law of the Church of Constantinople, interprets Canon I of the Fourth Ecumenical Council rejecting the false opinion on the right of Constantinople to consider appeals from other Churches: ‘The Primate of Constantinople has no right to act in dioceses and provinces of other Patriarchs, and this canon does not give him a right to accept appeals on any affair in the Universal Church…’ Enumerating quite a number of arguments for this interpretation and referring to the practice of the decisions of Ecumenical Councils. St.Nicodemus comes to this conclusion: ‘At the present time… the Primate of Constantinople is the first, only and last judge for the metropolitans subordinate to him – but not for those who are subordinate to other Patriarchs. For, as we would say, the last and general judge for all Patriarchs is the Ecumenical Council and none else’. It follows from the above that the Synod of the Church of Constantinople has no canonical rights to cancel court rulings made by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.
One’s appropriation of powers to reverse court judgements and other decisions of other Local Orthodox Churches is only one of the manifestations of a new false teaching proclaimed today by the Church of Constantinople and ascribing to the Patriarch of Constantinople the right of ‘the first without equals’ (primus sine paribus) with a universal jurisdiction. ‘This Patriarchate of Constantinople’s vision of its own rights and powers comes in an unsurmountable contradiction with the ages-long canonical tradition on which the life of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Local Churches is built’, warned the 2008 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in its resolution ‘On the Unity of the Church’. In the same resolution, the Council called the Church of Constantinople ‘to show discretion till a common Orthodox consideration of the enumerated innovations and refrain from steps which can undermine the Orthodox unity. It is especially true for the attempts to review the canonical boundaries of Local Orthodox Churches’.
The 1686 Act confirming the Metropolis of Kiev as part of the Moscow Patriarchate and signed by His Holiness Patriarch Dionysius IV of Constantinople and the Holy Synod of the Church of Constantinople is not to be reviewed. The decision to ‘repeal’ it is canonically negligible. Otherwise it would be possible to annul any document defining the canonical territory and status of a Local Church, regardless of its antiquity, authoritativeness and common ecclesial recognition.
The 1686 Synodal Deed and other documents that accompany states nothing about either a temporary nature of the transfer of the Metropolis of Kiev to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate or that it may be cancelled. The attempt of hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople for political and self-seeking reasons to review this resolution now, over three hundred years after it was adopted, runs contrary to the spirit of the Orthodox Church’s canons that do not allow of a possibility for reviewing established church boundaries that have not been challenged for a long time. Thus, Canon 129 (133) of the Council of Carthage reads, ‘If anyone… brought some place to catholic unity and had it in his jurisdiction for three years, and nobody demanded it from him, then it shall not be claimed from him, if also there was a bishop during these three years who should have claimed it but kept silent’. And Canon 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council establishes the thirty years’ term for a possible conciliar consideration of disputes over the belonging of even particular church parishes: ‘Parishes in each diocese… shall be invariably under the power of bishops who manage them, especially if for thirty years they undoubtedly were under his jurisdiction and governance’.
And how is it possible to cancel a decision that has been valid for three centuries? It would mean an attempt to see it ‘like it were non-existent’ throughout the successive history of the development of church life. As if he Patriarchate of Constantinople does not notice that the Metropolis of Kiev of 1686, the return of which as its part is declared today, had boundaries that were essentially different from today’s boundaries of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and used to embrace only a smaller part of the latter. The Metropolis of Kiev of our days includes as such the city of Kiev and several areas adjacent to it. The larger part of the dioceses of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church however, especially in the east and south of the country, was founded and developed already as part of the autocephalous Russian Church, being a fruit of its ages-long missionary and pastoral work. The present action of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is an attempt to hijack what has never belonged to it.
The 1686 Action put a limit to the two hundred years’ period of forced division in the centuries-long history of the Russian Church, which, for all the changing political circumstances, was invariably aware of itself as a single whole. After the Russian Church’s unification in 1686, nobody has doubted for over three centuries that the Orthodox in Ukraine are the flock of the Russian Church, not the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And today, contrary to the pressure of external anti-church forces, this multimillion flock cherishes the unity of the Church of all Rus and faithfulness to her.
The attempt of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to decide the fate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church without her consent is an anti-canonical encroachment on somebody else’s church possessions. The church canon reads: ‘The same rule shall be observed in the other dioceses and provinces everywhere, so that none of the God beloved Bishops shall assume control of any province which has not heretofore… But if anyone has violently taken and subjected [a Province], he shall give it up; lest the Canons of the Fathers be transgressed; or the vanities of worldly honour be brought in under pretext of sacred office; or we lose, without knowing it, little by little, the liberty which Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer of all men, hath given us by his own Blood’ (Third Ecumenical Council Canon 8). The judgement of this canon also falls upon the decision of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to establish, in agreement with the secular authorities, its ‘stauropegion’ in Kiev without the knowledge and consent of the canonical supreme authority of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Hypocritically justifying it by a desire to restore the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, by its senseless and politically motivated decisions, brings in an even larger division and aggravates the suffering of the canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
TO admit into communion schismatics and a person anathematized in other Local Church with all the ‘bishops’ and ‘clergy’ consecrated by him, the encroachment on somebody else’s canonical regions, the attempt to abandon its own historical decisions and commitments – all this leads the Patriarchate of Constantinople beyond the canonical space and, to our great grief, makes it impossible for us to continue the Eucharistic community with its hierarch, clergy and laity.
From now on until the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s rejection of its anti-canonical decisions,
it is impossible for all the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church to concelebrate with the clergy of the Church of Constantinople and for the laity to participate in sacraments administered in its churches.
The move of hierarchy or clergy from the canonical Church to the schismatics
or entering in the Eucharistic communion with the latter
is a canonical crime involving appropriate suspensions.
With grief we evoke the prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ about the time of temptation and special suffering of Christians: Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Mt. 24:12). In a situation of the deep undermining of inter-Orthodox relations and full disregard for ages-long norms of church canonical law, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church believes it her duty to come out in defense of the fundamental traditions of Orthodoxy, in defense of the Holy Tradition of the Church substituted by new and strange teachings on the universal power of the first among the Primates.
We call upon the Primates and Holy Synods of Local Orthodox Churches to a proper evaluation of the above-mentioned anti-canonical actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and to a joint search for a way out of the grave crisis tearing apart the body of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
We express our all-round support for His Beatitude Onufriy, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine and for the plenitude of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church at a time so hard for her. We pray for the strengthening of her faithful standing in a courageous vigil for the truth and unity of the canonical Church in Ukraine.
We ask the archpastors, clergy, monastics and laity of the whole Russian Orthodox Church to enhance their prayers for our brothers and sisters of the same faith in Ukraine. May the prayerful veil of the Most Holy Heavenly Queen, the honorable fathers of the Kiev Caves, St. Job of Pochaev, new martyrs and confessors and all the saints of the Russian Church be over all of us.
The information and education department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has published an interview given by His Beatitude Onufry, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, to Pastor and Flock magazine.
– Your Beatitude, according to the Ukrainian Constitution, Church is separated from state. When in the early 20th century the Bolsheviks adopted this law, many believers perceived it as a serious religious catastrophe. However, as it very soon became clear, the Bolsheviks separated Church from state only to busy themselves with her destruction. Later, in the early 90th, the situation changed as the communists went down from the historical arena and a time of restoration came for the Church. And here the law on the separation of Church from state played to some extent a positive role: the Church could develop in a necessary direction almost without any pressure from the authorities. But now when the authorities seek to influence the solution of church problems, how would you comment on the developments? Can the government help create ‘a One Local Church’? And how should a believer react to all this?
– The law on the separation of Church from state is a fruit of revolutionary transformations carried out in the early 20th century.
The Bolsheviks separated the Church from the state in order to show that the country adopted a new, atheistic way of development. This law was also necessary to the Soviet power to untie its hands in its struggle against the Church until her full destruction. And this struggle was waged under the slogan: ‘The Church is an enemy of the state’.
However, the Lord, Who does everything for the good of His faithful, ordained that the separation of Church from state became a new stimulus for her powerful development. And we humbly thank the Lord for this mercy to us, unworthy children of His holy Church.
Now some politicians are trying to create a one local church in Ukraine. This church is sometimes called Orthodox and sometimes simply ‘local church’.
It is all the same for politicians, since they do not quite understand it and do not even try to understand. The tragedy of these efforts lies in the two things: first, politicians, by their nature, are not capable of healing spiritual schisms – they, by their nature, can only divide people. It is only clergy, with the help of prayer, humbleness and Divine love, are capable of uniting people, with their different temperaments, tempers, outlooks, into a unified society called the Church of Christ. Secondly, the state, unfortunately, is pursuing a policy that was adopted after the revolution, that is, a policy moving people away from God.
Some may object and say that our politicians are believers: they pray and come to churches. I do not argue; it is really so. But there are forces who make our believing politicians adopt laws which encourage and perpetuate sin. And if politicians perpetuate lawlessness, then, despite their faith in God and coming to churches, they go against Christ. They take themselves and people who listen to them away from God. Such politicians want to tune the Church too to the rhythm of their own life. They want to create a one local Orthodox church that would cater to them and put people who are going to God on the path they themselves have taken.
We love our politicians and respect them but we cannot follow them. Otherwise, we will cease to be a Church and turn into a political organization, and the days of our life will be numbered by God.
I will use these words to answer your question of how we, believers, should react to the attempts to create a One Local Orthodox Church: those who believe in God but at the same time get fixated on a desire to get hold of a Local Church do not trust God but live by their own mind. With this attitude, we will soon arrive at a point when each political force would wish to have its own local church that would obey this party in everything and to make God fulfil its political desires.
On other words, those who believe in God but do not commit themselves to Him wish to subject God to themselves and think it can be done through the creation of a One Local Church.
But if one not only believes in God but also commits oneself to God, then one seeks the will of God remembering that all people are children of God. One wishes to live in peace with everybody and to find Christ in one’s life, Who is our life, the beauty of our life and its meaning. These people do not seek a Local Church – they build and decorate the inner church of their souls each day.
Live piously, work on subjecting yourselves to Christ, fulfil His holy commandments which for us the light, the way leading us to eternal life. On this way you will find your personal autocephaly, that is, the freedom from sin. And may be, you will also meet a Local Church but it will be quite unlike the one that politicians try to build. It will be filled with love, peace and joy in the Lord. It will not be a political Church but the Church of Christ, the Church that will never be overcome by the gates of hell.
– If the Tomos on the recognition of the schismatics by the Ecumenical Patriarch will still be granted, how should we react to this news and build our relations with these religious organizations?
– If the Tomos on the Patriarch of Constantinople’s recognition of the schismatics is granted, then it will generate new schisms, larger and deeper. These schisms will affect not only our Ukraine – they will affect the whole world Orthodox Church.
I will briefly explain how it will happen so.
First, according to Orthodox canons, the deeply esteemed Church of Constantinople has no right to give autocephaly to a Church that is not in her jurisdiction today. The title of ‘Mother Church’, which is very often used today, does not give a canonical right to invade the spiritual life of a ‘daughter Church’, which was separated from ‘the Mother’ ages ago and has de factor lived her own spiritual life.
And it is taken into account that ‘the Mother Church’ herself is suffering from her own deepest schism because of which the Orthodox Byzantine Empire has turned into a country in which Islam is confessed today, then it will be appropriate to recall the words for the holy Gospel: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ (Lk. 4:23).
If a physician who, regrettably, himself is seriously ill and for this reason has no right to treat others, still dares to act, then it will only give birth to greater lawlessness in the form of a global schism of Orthodoxy.
As to the attitude to a religious organization born from lawlessness, I will answer by the words of Psalmist David: ‘May the righteous not use their hands to do evil’ (Ps. 125:3).
– Holy Scriptures says that ‘all power comes from God’. How should we understand these words? For instance, if power is from God, then should a Christian fully obey this power? If yes, in what cases? But if the power is such as it was 50 years ago, how should we perceive it? And generally, in what cases can and must a Christian fulfil the commands of powers that be?
– Indeed, all power comes from God. But God does not give us power in our hands for our arbitrariness, not for us to do as we wish, but for us to fulfil what God wills, for us to live according to the commandment of Divine love and to teach our subordinates to live so.
Unfortunately, when we receive power, all this is often forgotten. Power blinds us, and it already seems to us that we are allowed going rogue.
We should not think so. Together with a great power a great responsibility is placed on us. For the way in which we bore our cross we would give an account before God.
It is the Saviour Himself Who has given an answer to the question of how we should treat power if it does not do as we wanted it to do: ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’. That is, give the authorities all earthly things – taxes, work, patience, respect, but your hearts you give to God.
On the other hand, if the authorities begin acting arbitrarily, we should not disdain or hate them for that; we should pray for the authorities. We should pray to the Lord that He might give our leaders the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who will help them bear their cross in a proper way.
– If a parish priest asked to read the burial service or give communion to those who were baptized in a church of the ‘Kiev Patriarchate’, what is the right response to this request? Perhaps, it is more logical that our priests should bear responsibility for only those who are in their pastoral care and who are in the area of their immediate pastoral concern?
– Concerning the question about reading the burial service for those who were ‘baptized’ by the schismatics, the answer is clear: those baptized in the canonical Church have thus testified to their wish to be also buried by that Church. But if one is ‘baptized’ in a schism, one thus expressed the wish to be send to glory in it. We do not read burial services for schismatics because we do not want to violate the freedom of their choice.
In life, however, each individual case has an underlying meaning. And before refusing a request, a canonical priest should thoroughly clarify all the reasons why the deceased chose a different faith. If in doing so, a priest finds arguments associated with a human weakness, not the deceased’s fanatical stubbornness, then he has the right to show oikonomy, that is, a concession, with a blessing from his bishop.
– Many are concerned over the further life of the canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine. What should disturb us most of all at this time – the fate of the Church or the fate of our souls and the confession of the personal faithfulness to Christ?
– Indeed, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church is going through a difficult time. But to our consolation, I would like to remind you that the earthly Church has no easy times. Even when it is all calm around it, when we are praised it is still a hard time for the Church. And this complexity lies in that praise and wellbeing make us dormant and careless and this leads us to spiritual degradation and decline. For this reason, even in the times of wellbeing we should struggle with ourselves and force ourselves to stay alert so that spiritual slackness may not happen to us.
We must force ourselves to pray constantly and repent of outr unworthiness, and humbly thank the Lord for not turning His Divine Face away from us but surrounding us with His mercies and generosities out of which we are able to see only a small and minor part while not seeking and discerning the rest of them.
However, we should also know that our spiritual blindness and our ignorance do not free us from the duty to be grateful to our Creator. We should strongly humble ourselves and say: ‘Today, by God’s mercy, you lie on a featherbed of earthly wellbeing and hear sounds of human praise. Look, do not take it for justice and do not think that you are worthy of it all. Otherwise you will become a church-robber who has appropriated what belongs to God. And then you will share a bitter lot with those who once rose in rebellion against God and were precipitated from the Heavenly circles’.
Those who will do so will have peace and joy in their souls. And they will not depart from the True Church of Christ which will be on earth till the end of time.
– Your Beatitude, today our Church together with the people’ is going through a hard time. What would you wish to our flock in the first place as a blessing and edification?
– Hold on to the Church which cherishes the purity and intactness of the Orthodox faith, and in all the rest things ‘cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you’ (Ps. 55:22). Live according to the commandments of God and look after your steps so that they may be directed according to the word of the Lord and commit all people to the hands of God. He has power to correct human steps.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, gave an interview to TASS news agency.
– Your Eminence, the other day the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church made a decision to discontinue the Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. How will his decision affect church life in our country and the life of the world Orthodoxy as a whole?
– The daily church life of parishioners of churches in Russia will not be affected in any way: divine service are celebrated, people make confession and take communion and live a full-flegded church life.
As for the situation in the world Orthodoxy, the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to recognize the schismatics in Ukraine, to invade somebody else’s canonical territory and to state its right to cancel decisions made by other Churches have completely changed the pattern of cooperation which took shape in the 20th century. The Patriarch of Constantinople, who has positioned himself as the coordinator of common Orthodox activity, can no longer be such a coordinator for an obvious reason. He has self-distructed as the coordinating center for canonical Churches by having opted for schismatics and having fully associated himself with them.
– Have any alternative responses been considered to the essentially non-canonical decisions of Constantinople?
– I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, though Constantinople used to make unfriendly steps towards the Moscow Patriarchate for quite a long time, to which we had to react, at each stage we would still leave an opportunity for them to think twice and review their decisions. However, the decisions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople Synod published on October 11, which ‘revoked’ the decision adopted over 300 years ago to transfer the Metropolis of Kiev to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, admitted to communion the leaders of the schism in Ukraine and stated its readiness to realize the project for ‘Ukrainian autocephaly’, regrettably has not left us with any arguments against a breakup of relations.
– How correctly is it to speak of a new schism in the world Orthodoxy in the context of the recent events?
– Nearly a thousand years ago, the ungrounded claims of one of the Primates to the sole right to power in the Church already led to a large-scale schism. Now this dangerous path has been taken by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And already now we have to ascertain with bitterness the existence of a division that does not allow speaking of the 300-million-strong community of the Orthodox Christians as a one whole. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, having recognized schismatics and entered into communion with them has itself departed into schism.
Moreover, the stated plans ‘to grant autocephaly’ mean nothing else but the making out of the schismatics a parallel structure in Ukraine bypassing the already existing canonical Church, which is expressly prohibited by holy canons – the laws on which church life is built. It is a decision, as made in defiance of the opinion of the Moscow Patriarchate and ignoring the calls of other Local Church to discuss the existing problems in council, which will have far-reaching negative consequences.
The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church called upon the Primates and Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches on August 15 to make an appropriate assessment of the anti-canonical actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and to ‘search together for ways of coming out of the gravest crisis tearing apart the body of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’.
– Many disputes have been provoked by Phanar’s decision to revoke the 1686 decision to transfer the Metropolis of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate. How far does this decision correspond to the historical truth?
– Imagine that you have a house in which your ancestors have lived for three hundred years and today your children live in it. It is your family property but three thousand years ago it was handed over to your family by some other family. And now a certain descendent of those grantors appears and says that it was, as it turns out, not a gift but this house with the land was simply leased to your family for a time being. And it does not matter that the house was three times smaller, the adjacent territory has become five times bigger, and many generations of your ancestors lived there and cultivated the land. Now another master appears and cancels out all this history and requires that you and your children should move out. What is it but a lawless act and robbery? Would you admit such claims as lawful?
The Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church considers this topic in detail and underscores the canonical invalidity of the resolution ‘to revoke’ the decision in the 1686 document signed by Patriarch Dionysios IV of Constantinople and the Synod of the Church of Constantinople confirming that the Metropolis of Kiev was to stay in the Moscow Patriarchate as its part.
The canons of the Orthodox Church do not allow of a possibility for reviewing the established church borders that have not been challenged for a long time. Why has Constantinople not challenged this decision for over 300 years but now, in so ambiguous political conditions, has suddenly decided to put under his control the Orthodox people in Ukraine, including those in the regions that did not belong to the Metropolis of Kiev three centuries ago? Indeed, at that time the Metropolis of Kiev extended its pastoral responsibility to a territory much smaller than the present domain of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But Constantinople prefers to ignore the history of the development of church life for the considerable past time and to pay no attention to the opinion of the canonical Ukrainian Church, her Primate, His Holiness Metropolitan Onufry, and her hierarchs.
I will remind you once again: the 1686 Synodal Charter and other documents accompanying it do not state anything about a temporary nature of the transfer of the Metropolis of Kiev to the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, nor about a possibility for revoking this act. Moreover, it should be taken into account that the 1686 decision did not spring from nowhere: it became an end of the two hundred year’s period of a forced division in the ages-long history of the Russian Church, which, despite changing political circumstances, invariably was aware of herself as a one whole. Precisely for this reason our Synod in its statements affirmed: ‘The present action of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is an attempt to highjack what has never belonged to it’.
– A pressing question asked by many Russian believers: Does the decision to discontinue the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople mean a ban for visiting churches of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in particular, those on Mount Athos so popular among our pilgrims? Can our pilgrims put candles in Athonite churches?
– Those who wish can go to Holy Mountain to visit Athonite monasteries. But to participate in Sacraments – confession and communion – is what the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church should not do there since the Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople with its jurisdiction over the monasteries on Mount Athos has been severed because of its non-canonical, and I would say straight, brigand’s actions.
At the same time, I would like remind believers: one can pray to God and seek to save one’s soul not only on Athos. ‘Salvation does not come from a place’, says St. Theophanes the Recluse. Perhaps, the present circumstances will encourage some to make a pilgrimage to ‘Northern Athos’ – in the monasteries of Valamo or Solovki or other holy places in our land – to come to the knowledge of the Russian monastic tradition, to take part in the Liturgy, to make confession and partake of Christ’s Holy Gifts in these churches and monasteries.
– How does the Russian Church plan to solve the problem of pastoral care for compatriots residing in the territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople?
– Our faithful who live outside the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, have visited parishes of the Patriarchate of Constantinople almost throughout the world. But in most countries there are churches of other Local Churches too, so they have an alternative. More difficult is the situation of our compatriots in the territory of Turkey and on Rhodes, Crete and other Greek islands of the Dodekanese in the Aegean See. After the Patriarchate of Constantinople has identified itself with schismatics and thus proved itself to be in schism, they have been left without pastoral care. This problem stands very acutely on the agenda. We have already received letters from the faithful who ask: What are we to do? Let us think how to solve this new problem.
– Can it be expected that other Local Orthodox Churches will support our position and discontinue the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople as well?
– I do not think it would be right to predict the decisions of Local Orthodox Church. We will inform them about our decision and reasons that have forced us to make it.
It can be stated that as for today there have be no statements by other Local Churches expressing their support for the anti-canonical steps of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. On the other hand, in a recent talk with the mass media the Patriarch of Serbia said that Patriarch Bartholomew made a decision that he had to right to make and this may involve catastrophic consequences. Even before Constantinople’s decision on admitting the schismatics into communion in Ukraine and on establishing ‘stauropegions’ in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, there were proposal voiced by various Churches that the existing problems should be discussed at the pan-Orthodox level. Regrettably, these proposals were not heard by Patriarch Bartholomew.
– Commenting on the decision of the Holy Synod, the Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko stated that the Russian Orthodox Church would found herself in isolation. How far does this prediction correspond to reality?
– It is a high-flown utterance, but let us look how adequate it is as a reflection of the present situation. By its actions Constantinople itself has placed itself outside the canonical space – which was noted with regret in the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on October 15.
The Patriarch of Constantinople is sometimes called the spiritual leader of the 300 million Orthodox believers on the globe. Now no less than a half of this number – the faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate are not in the Eucharistic communion with him at all. What kind of a pan-Orthodox leader is he after that? As for other Local Orthodox Churches, then, as I have already said, so far none of the Local Churches has openly supported Constantinople.
– Patriarchate Bartholomew has decided to begin the process of granting autocephaly in Ukraine. Does it mean that in Russia there may appear churches and parishes of the so-called ‘Kiev Patriarchate’?
– There have been structures of the schismatic ‘Kiev Patriarchate’ in the territory of Russia for already a long time. Moreover, in May 2017, the schismatics decided to establish a certain ‘Russian Exarchate’. I do not think it will be productive to reflect on how the status of these structures may change in connection with particular steps of Constantinople. Schismatics remain schismatic if they do not repent of their action and return to the Church from which they departed.
– What advice do you give to the faithful of the canonical Ukrainian Church who do not accept Constantinople’s decisions? What do you think, how long may take the healing of the new crisis in the Orthodox world?
– I would like to call the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine to stay faithful to the canonical Church and to do everything to support His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine in spite of any threats and provocations from whatever side, in spite of promises and appeals of the schismatics and those representatives of the authorities who, for their own political interests, have embarked on the path of interference in the affairs of the Church. Let us remember that our Church, also in the Ukrainian land, in various ages did withstand many trials with dignity. Even during the atheistic persecution in the 20th century, atheists tried to destroy the Church but the Church held out.
As for the crisis provoked by Constantinople in the inter-Orthodox relations, I would certainly hope that reason will prevail and the Patriarchate of Constantinople will withhold from further actions on the pernicious path of division. It do not think it is right to conjecture how it might happen and at what time. Meanwhile, regrettably, the latest events point to a reverse tendency. We have heard not once from representatives of Constantinople: ‘We are not going to heal the schism by creating a new schism’. But now it is precisely what is happening.
Interviewers Yekaterina Yefimova
and Andrey Yermilov
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