Moscow news service challenges Constantinople's actions


by Alexander Filippov

RIA Novosti, 8 December 2018


The patriarchate of Constantinople is continuing its attempts to "abolish" the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church if it will not consent to join the new church structure subordinate to it, which is being created by secular authorities of Ukraine. Moreover Constantinople is infringing not only upon the canonical territory of the Moscow patriarchate but also on its full-fledged existence. Everything that is happening in the church life of Ukraine reminds one more and more of the theatre of the absurd: the president of a secular state, that is separated from the church, is assembling a church council; Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew sitting in Istanbul removes from Ukrainian schismatics anathemas he did not impose; and priests of the canonical church are declared to be outside the law. How all of this may turn out in practice for millions of believers in Ukraine, in Russia, and throughout the world is the topic of this RIA Novosti article.


It seems that the Phanar (the quarter in Istanbul where the residence of the patriarch of Constantinople is located) has transferred into some parallel universe where it is possible, like in a computer game, by one click to destroy whole churches with a thousand-year history and, without having either spiritual or political weight nor even its own administrative resources, declare itself sovereign of the whole Orthodox world.


A few days ago Patriarch Bartholomew sent a letter to the canonical metropolitan of Kiev, Onufrey, in which he denied his canonical right to use this title. "Addressing you as 'His Eminence Metropolitan of Kiev' out of forbearance and kindness, we inform you that after the election of a primate of the Ukrainian church by a body comprising clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to use the title of metropolitan of Kiev, which you are nevertheless using now in violation of the conditions written in the official documents of 1686," the letter says. "Patriarch Bartholomew, who previously often emphasized that the only canonical head of the Ukrainian church is Metropolitan Onufrey, now permits himself to address him in frankly insulting words," the chairman of the synodal Department for Relations of Church with Society and News Media of the Moscow patriarchate, Vladimir Legoida, responded to this.


On Friday the Union of Orthodox Journalists of Ukraine reported that Metropolitan Onufrey sent the letter back to Patriarch Bartholomew without an answer.


In recent days there has appeared information that the draft of the charter, adopted by the last Synod in Istanbul, of the new religious structure created in Ukraine jointly with official Kiev places it in complete dependence on the patriarchate of Constantinople. Meanwhile the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow patriarchate (UPTs) has, by the ecumenical (Constantinople) patriarchate, been "deprived of independence": now all hierarchs of all Ukrainian churches have, in the eyes of the Phanar, identical status—clerics of the ecumenical patriarchate. And it is not important whether they want this or not.


"By abolishing the act of 1686, the administration of the Kiev metropolitanate and all dioceses in Ukraine by the Moscow church is abolished. From a canonical point of view this means that today in Ukraine, the UPTsMP no longer exists," Archbishop of Telmessos Job, a representative of the patriarchate of Constantinople, declared publicly. Patriarch Bartholomew had already previously said that the RPTs should "submit to the ecumenical patriarchate" on the Ukrainian question, inasmuch as "it does not have another choice." Although , as the Moscow patriarchate justly noted, Bartholomew's authority extends only to his patriarchate.


"Constantinople claims that in the diaspora, only its jurisdiction is possible," Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin, a doctor of church history and professor of the Sretensky Ecclesiastical Seminary, explained for RIA Novosti. Therefore, by "abolishing the independence" of the UPTs, the Phanar is threatening the Moscow patriarchate also. It was this that was stated in an interview with BBC by the theorist of the Phanar, Archbishop Job, in response to the question, "can the ecumenical patriarch simply take away the patriarchal dignity from the Moscow see or even abolish the RPTs?" "We hope that the Orthodox Church of Russia comes to its senses and returns to unity with the ecumenical see. But if such a situation is maintained over the course of a long time, then of course the ecumenical see, as the primary see of ecumenical Orthodoxy, will be forced to take certain measures," he said.


Constantinople has already more than once deprived various local Orthodox churches of autocephaly. And it was exclusively for political reasons, far from canon law, noted Archpriest Igor Yakimchuk, a representative of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate. "The autocephaly of the Serbian Orthodox Church was abolished twice in the period of Ottoman rule: in the middle of the 15th century, for a period of less than a century, and in the middle of the 18th century, until its restoration in 1879. The autocephaly of the Bulgarian patriarchate was abolished with the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria. In all these cases, autocephaly was abolished by force at the request of the patriarchate of Constantinople, just as now in Ukraine it is being imposed by force by the secular authorities at the request of Constantinople," the archpriest recalled.


However, from the point of view of church canons the "abolition" of autocephaly of any local church, "large or small, ancient or modern, is impossible."  Moreover it is impossible "by a unilateral decision of another local church, inasmuch as all autocephalous churches are equal in rights and none of them, including Constantinople, has any authority to decide the fate of other churches," the representative of the RPTs is sure.


The idea of the abolition of the Moscow patriarchate by Constantinople is absurd, Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin also thinks. "It is as if now the British parliament were to issue an act for the abolition of the independence of India and its return to the status of a British colony," he explained.


The concept of autocephaly in its modern meaning within the Orthodox world "in principle does not presuppose the possibility of its abolition," doctor of church history Vladislav Petrushko emphasizes.


Meanwhile in November 2018 Constantinople made an attempt to abolish the archdiocese of Russian churches in western Europe (a church organization created by Russian emigres in 1931) and to incorporate its parishes in various metropolitanates of the patriarchate. In response, the council of archbishops declared that Archbishop Ioann, the administrator of the western European exarchate of Russian parishes will, as before, be responsible fully for the pastoral ministry of Russian Orthodox churches in western Europe, and it called a pastoral assembly for 15 December and a subsequent general assembly of the exarchate for making the final decision.


The issue of proclaiming autocephaly "is not regulated by the canons," the secretary of the synodal Biblical and Theological Commission, Andrei Shishkov, is certain. He said that the right of the ecumenical patriarch to unilaterally grant autocephaly does not have any other source besides the sovereign will of the Synod of the Constantinople church. However this right is not acknowledged by one other local Orthodox church.


Constantinople also cannot withdraw the patriarchal dignity from the Russian church because the patriarchy that was granted by it to Moscow and was confirmed by a council of four eastern patriarchs in 1590 "was abolished by Emperor Peter I in 1700." And it was "reestablished by the local council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917," the scholar explains. According to formal logic, the Phanar could theoretically abolish the patriarchy if it had itself granted it. But if the patriarchal dignity has as its source the council of the Russian church, then it can only be abolished by the Russian church itself and certainly not the Phanar.


Constantinople versus the status quo


The history of the aspirations of the patriarchs of Constantinople to primacy and the role of a pope in the Orthodox world goes back centuries. But they have become especially insistent since the 20s of the 20th century, after the mass exodus of Greeks from Asia Minor as the result of the Greco-Turkish war. "Having been deprived of its own flock, the patriarchate of Constantinople increasingly began to infringe the canonical boundaries of other churches and the character of its activity became increasingly less pastoral and more political," Archpriest Igor Yakmchuk maintains.


Meanwhile the issue of autocephaly, which was not resolved in antiquity by the ecumenical councils, the Crete council of 2016 tried to resolve. Agreement on the corresponding document was reached back in 2011: it clearly laid out a mechanism for granting autocephaly—from the original initiative coming from a mother-church to confirmation by all Orthodox churches. However, the frivolous ambitions of the Phanar prevented its adoption. "The Constantinople delegation insisted that the signature of their patriarch was different from the signatures of all the others, in order to indicate that it is he who makes the decision and the others join him. Since such a suggestion did not conform to historical church traditions, it did not receive universal support," the representative of the OVTsS explains.


At the same time, in 2016, Patriarch Bartholomew "publicly, before the face of all primates, promised not to take any steps with respect to granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian church," Yakimchuk emphasized. But Constantinople treacherously violated this promise.


The problem is that "a system of existing inter-church law as such does not exist," thinks the secretary of the synodal Biblical and Theological Commission, Andrei Shishkov. "Thus far the system of inter-Orthodox relations has been maintained as a fragile status quo—the recognition of the historically developed virtual boundaries of the jurisdictions of existing autocephalous churches. The patriarchate of Constantinople, by its actions in Ukraine in an actually unilateral manner, has destroyed this system," the expert maintains.


And now, if local churches are not able to coordinate their views on this painful matter, ecumenical Orthodoxy is faced with schism. In any case, the head of the OVTsS, Metropolitan Ilarion, does not rule out that instead of the one hitherto outwardly friendly family of 15 local Orthodox churches of the world, there may be formed within Orthodoxy "two families of Orthodox churches" in opposition to one another. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 December 2018)

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