The most serious schism within the Eastern Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054 continues this year, with the excommunication of the Constantinople Patriarch, Bartholomew I, following his “rehabilitation” of two schismatic hierarchs on October 11th of this year. The local Orthodox Churches already had a reaction before this ever happened, and that response has largely deepened now.
Prior to that event, though, the possibility that the Ukrainian government, consumed with a fervor to utterly purge the country of all things Russian, was going to try to eject the leading Orthodox Church in that country because it is under the Moscow Patriarchate. The noisings of Filaret Denisenko and President Poroshenko were getting noticed by Constantinople and by the West, who seek to use Ukraine as the next outpost in its proxy battle against Russia.
This is not merely an ecclesiastical spat but a major front in the fight between secular or atheist globalism and Christian sovereignty.
On the 6th of July of this year, the Union of Orthodox Journalists compiled a list of the thoughts expressed by the fourteen “Local” Orthodox Churches regarding Ukrainian autocephaly, or total independence. (A “Local” Church is such a church, in 100% communion theologically with all the other Orthodox Churches, but administered independently of them. There is no single human point of authority in Eastern Orthodoxy, with each bishop having independence within his own see.)
The following is excerpted heavily from the Union’s piece, with emphasis added where we thought it would be useful for the reader in understanding the nature and character of this problem:
World Orthodoxy supports the UOC (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate) and condemns the split.
Recently, representatives of the unrecognized Kyiv Patriarchate have voiced manipulative theses about the support of the Ukrainian authorities by the Local Orthodox Churches. In particular, head of the UOC-KP Filaret stated that autocephaly for the schismatics will be supported by 12 out of 15 (although the recognized autocephalous churches at the moment are only 14) Churches.
The UOJ has prepared a selection of statements by representatives of the Orthodox Churches, upon which one can make sure that the fullness of Orthodoxy condemns the split and does not accept its legalization in any form. Priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church can print out this material and deliver the truth to their parishioners.
Alexandrian Orthodox Church
On June 29, 2018 Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye and Melitopol took part in the Liturgy in the Greek city of Berea and communicated with representatives of the Orthodox Churches, in particular with the Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria.
Regarding the initiative of the Ukrainian authorities, the Patriarch of Alexandria noted that modern politicians are more likely to harm the Church than to help it. They and we need to remember that “even hair cannot fall from our head without the will of God” (see Matthew 10, 29), therefore not always what they want will be pleasing to God, Who does everything for our eternal salvation, and not for up-to-the-minute whims.
Patriarch Theodoros II stressed that the issues of autocephaly should be resolved through fraternal discussion, since only general support can contribute to their solution.
“Let us pray to God, Who does all for our good, that He will impart wisdom to everyone by solving these problems. If the schismatic Denisenko wants to return to the bosom of the Church, then he must go back to where he left. What has fallen off must return to where it fell from. God is merciful to those who repent. So the Church forgives and accepts in its maternal embrace all those who repent,” said the Primate of the Alexandrian Orthodox Church.
Serbian Orthodox Church
On May 23, 2018 Primate of the Serbian Orthodox Church Irinej stated the following: “Everyone knows the feat of hundreds of thousands of Serbs who fought to the death for holy Orthodoxy. Therefore, I think, it is not necessary to say a lot of words to explain how the Serbian Church sees everything that is happening in Ukraine today,” Patriarch Irinej said.” Our response is the same as the response of our predecessors: the Serbian Church entirely supports the unity and integrity of the Russian Orthodox Church and resolutely condemns actions of Uniates and schismatics who tear apart the robe of Christ at the place of Kievan Baptism betraying their people to the enemies of faith. Their end shall be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:15).”
“Everyone who helps Ukrainian schismatics is not only an enemy of the Russian Church and the Russian world, but also of all Orthodox Slavonic peoples and the whole Orthodox world,” Patriarch Irinej said.
Earlier, on May 10, 2018, the SOC’s Council of Bishops expressed full support to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“We express our full solidarity in compassionate brotherly love for our sister – the Church-martyr in Ukraine, which is subjected to the brutal persecution by the current regime in Kiev.”
Bulgarian Orthodox Church
On June 15, 2018, deputy head of the presidential administration, Rostislav Pavlenko, met with Patriarch Neophyte, the leader of the BOC.
The chief secretary of the Holy Synod of the BOC, Bishop Gerasim of Melnish, stressed that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is well acquainted with the Ukrainian situation and its complexity. However, within the framework of this process, said Bishop Gerasim, it is necessary to strictly observe the ecclesiastical canons, which the Orthodox Church has been following for many centuries.
Earlier the Primate of the Bulgarian Church has repeatedly expressed his support for the UOC and condemned the actions of the schismatics.
Polish Orthodox Church
On May 17, 2018, the Synod of the Polish Church expressed support for the UOC.
“As for the letter of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine, who informs us of the current situation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, we express a clear position of the Polish Autocephalous Church, namely, that the ecclesiastic life of the canonical Orthodox Church should be based on the principles of dogmatism and holy canons of the Orthodox Church,” reads the decision of the Holy Synod of the Polish Orthodox Church. “Violation of this principle leads to chaos in the life of the Church. In Ukraine there are certain schismatic groups that must first of all repent and return to the canonical Church. Only then can we discuss the issue of granting autocephaly.”
The hierarchs of the Polish Orthodox Church emphasize, “The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Polish Orthodox Church professes, above all, the observance of the canonical order in the life of the Church. The Mother Church can grant autocephaly in accordance with the opinion of the Local Orthodox Churches provided it has been confirmed by all Primates of the Local Churches.
“When it comes to dogmatic-canonical issues, one cannot be guided by political considerations,” the Synod summed up.
Orthodox Church of Jerusalem
On April 26, 2018, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine met with the Primate of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III.
“We are doing our best to restore the unity of the Church,” said the head of the Jerusalem Church. “I have always believed and believe, like my spiritual fathers, that the best way to resolve the church schism in Ukraine is to restore the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy with the Moscow Patriarchate and then to start a dialogue as a way of solving the problem. As an example, I often refer to the relationship between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece.”
Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia
On May 30, the Ukrainian delegation with the participation of former presidents Kuchma and Kravchuk visited Metropolitan Rostislav.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav drew the attention of interlocutors to the fact that interference in the affairs of religion on the part of the authorities is unacceptable in a democratic society.
“The schism that arose out of human egoism can only be healed through repentance and return to the Church,” Vladika said, adding that the new autocephaly (for the canonical Church – author) should be born out of an all-Orthodox consensus.
Georgian Orthodox Church
On June 21, the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church took place. According to the member of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Petra, at the meeting on June 21 the Synod did not consider this issue in the sense of “support it or not”.
“The Holy Synod took a reasonable position, which lies in that the discussion on this issue will take place after the Ecumenical Patriarchate has clarified its position,” the hierarch said in a conversation with reporters.
However, according to the Greek media outlet Romfea, one of the metropolitans of the Georgian Patriarchate, on condition of anonymity, reported that Patriarch Ilia II expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Ukrainian issue: “His Beatitude does not agree with the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on Ukraine and accepts as legitimate exclusively the Church under the leadership of Metropolitan Onufry,” said the Georgian hierarch.
Contrary to the position of the Patriarch and the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Peter (Tsaava) supported the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In his statements to the Georgian media he justified his opinion by the fact that 40 million people in the country should have their independent Church. Yet it should be emphasized the above said is just his private opinion.
Antiochian Orthodox Church
A communique of the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, published on April 30, commented on conflicts in the Orthodox world, in the course of which “efforts are being made to change the borders of the Patriarchates and autocephalous churches.”
The Synod stated that “the Patriarchate of Antioch suffered and continues to suffer from the invasion of the Jerusalem Patriarchate to its canonical territory and the establishment of the so-called “diocese” in Qatar. In this context, he calls for a return to the principle of consensus by addressing important issues, because it has always helped Orthodoxy avoid splits and fragmentation.”
Greek Orthodox Church
On June 26, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the ROC, met with Archbishop Jerome, the head of the GOC.
Archbishop Jerome noted, “I am particularly pleased by today’s meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to exchange views on ecclesiastic topics in general, to discuss our good fraternal relations with the Russian Church, as well as a number of pressing issues, for example, the situation of church affairs in Ukraine. We decided that we will follow the development of events in order to state whether we agree or not. We wish enlightenment to all those who, unlike us, are endowed with great powers to achieve the result for the good of the whole Church.”
Orthodox Church of Cyprus
On July 21, 2017 a letter from His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostom II of New Justinian and the whole of Cyprus arrived in the name of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia regarding the position of the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
In his return letter, His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostom, in particular, notes: “Whenever the state and especially the parliament interfere in the issues of the Church, the harm is obvious. The actions of the parliament will lead to the creation of a certain schismatic church, while the holy fathers view schism as the deepest wound on the sacred body of the Church. The Church is a feeding Mother, and it strives for unity in the love of all the people of the Ukrainian state. Laws are always compulsory, causing division among the people. The Ukrainian people have suffered enough and continue to be in distress, so there is no need for additional misfortunes and torments. The Church of Cyprus expresses its discontent with this interference,” Archbishop Chrysostom said.
Having assured His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of his support of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church “in this troubled and difficult time,” the Primate of the Church of Cyprus noted, “Our Church prays to the Organizer of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, to enlighten the political leaders of Ukraine so that they could persuade the schismatics to return to the Church headed by Your Holiness.”
Deputy Head of the Department for External Church Relations of the UOC, Protopriest Nikolai Danilevich, told on his Facebook page about the position of the Cypriot hierarchs: “I had talks with the priests from Cyprus. They asked me about the situation around our ecclesiastic issue. They said, “We communicate with our bishops. All of them are against it. No one supports (the idea of giving Tomos in circumvention of the UOC). Everyone says, “We do not know what it will result in, but we will not recognize this new structure. We will be with the Church of Metropolitan Onufry.”
Romanian Orthodox Church
In April 2016, Bishop Varlaam, secretary of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Church, supported the UOC as the only canonical Church in Ukraine and stated, “The Romanian Orthodox Church prays continuously for peace in Ukraine, on whose body the bleeding wound is gaping caused by the ongoing armed conflict, which is aggravated by actions of the schismatics being lawless and contradictory to the Gospel and canons, which can not in any way contribute to the establishment of peace on the Ukrainian land.”
Albanian Orthodox Church
The Church of Albania has not yet expressed its official position concerning the initiative of Ukrainian authorities, yet one can make conclusions based on its previous statements it also supports the UOC.
UPDATE: From the article linked here, the Albanian Church struck a non-polarized point of view, calling both sides out – for the Albanians, Russia was wrong to excommunicate Constantinople, but the Ecumenical Patriarch’s actions were also uncanonical, and the solution is for all the Local Churches to settle the matter. Albania offered to mitigate.
Orthodox Church of Constantinople
Finally, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which the schismatics pin high hopes to and assert it is determined to recognize them, declares quite the opposite.
Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye and Melitopol held talks with the representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea, who said literally the following:
“Patriarch Bartholomew is particularly concerned about the split triggered by the current head of the “Kyiv Patriarchate” with the support of politicians. Aware of the responsibility for the church unity, His Holiness wishes, without interfering in the internal life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and in the political situation, to help solve a very difficult issue – the existence of the schism in Ukraine, which can only be settled by canonical means. The issue is so complex that so far no one knows how to resolve it and at the same time not to lose our brothers, who are in schism, and to return them to the saving bosom of the Orthodox Church.”
Arising from the aforesaid, the position of the Local Churches can be summed up as follows:
Politicians should not interfere in the internal affairs of the Church;
Schismatics must unite with the canonical Church after their repentance and only later can the prospect of autocephaly be discussed;
All complex ecclesiastical issues should be resolved by consensus, together, rather than by an individual decision;
The overcoming of the split must take place strictly on a canonical basis.