To the anniversary of Kharkov Council, or a few words about how M.A. Denisenko was "expelled" from Church

It’s amazing what the opponents of the canonical Church can come up with in order to discredit in the public eye the decisions of the Kharkov Council fateful for Ukrainian Orthodoxy. The Council, at which Filaret (Denisenko), who at that time was Metropolitan of Kiev, was removed from the leadership of the Church, laid off and banned from priesthood.

Manipulating the facts, descending to falsehood, our opponents are trying to outline the situation of 25 years ago, as a schism that resulted in the emergence of two branches of the canonical Church in modern, post-Soviet Ukraine: one purely "Ukrainian", calling itself the Kiev Patriarchate, and the other – "pro-Moscow".

To refute this lie and avoid future manipulations on this topic, we will consider here some of the arguments of our opponents from the self-proclaimed "Kiev Patriarchate" in a particularly careful manner. As a basis for this article, let's take an interview of the Doctor of Theology and the Doctor of History K. Vetoshnikov, who is obviously sympathetic to the Ukrainian schismatics (1).

How many Orthodox Churches are there in Ukraine?

For any churched Orthodox Christian, the answer to this question will sound unequivocal, namely: only the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky), is an organic part of the Orthodox Christianity and, consequently, presents the fullness of the True Church of Christ in the territory of modern Ukraine.

It is no secret that the division of the One (Universal) Orthodox Church into local communities (local churches) is a conditional division that does not break church unity. Stopping in these or those places, countries and settlements, the apostles affirmed Christian faith there and founded local communities of Christians. That is why the abbreviations of the UOC (Ukrainian Orthodox Church), the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church), the BOC (Bulgarian Orthodox Church), etc. mean only that in a given territory, in a particular country, there is a community of Christians. And nothing more. In fact, all the local churches of the world (the totality of which, as mentioned above, constitutes the Church of Christ itself) have one nature, one Scripture, one doctrine, one canonical corpus, patristic teaching, and they recognize the validity of the ordinations of each other and have Holy Communion (2).

By the way, this fact is not denied even by the leader of the Ukrainian schismatics M.A. Denisenko. Here, for example, is the list of attributes of the true Orthodox Church, which he made as Metropolitan of Kiev, at the theological symposium "Pro Oriente" in Vienna on December 1, 1980. So:

"Church unity should not be manifested as a unity of power over all Local Churches, but as a unity of faith, and the unity of life that follows from it. This inner unity lies in the internal harmony and solidarity of the Local Churches existing independently, but not separated from each other. It is expressed in the mutual recognition of the power and efficacy of the grace-filled life in these Churches (the first attribute of the Church – note of the author), the mutual recognition of the hierarchy (the second attribute of the Church – note of the author), and the communion in the ordinances (the third attribute of the Church – note of the author)" (Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko). The Local Church and the Universal Church, Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, No. 3. 1981. Pp.70-76).

An absolutely accurate list of attributes of the True Church of Christ. Only the religious organization founded by M. A. Denisenko (UOC-KP) does not have any of these attributes and, accordingly, is not the Church. This also follows that in the UOC-KP there are no church ordinances, and the people who serve there are not clergymen.

In fact, therefore, neither the self-proclaimed "Kiev Patriarchate" nor other pseudo-church structures that are outside the eucharistic communion with the Universal Orthodoxy can be called either Orthodox or churches in general.

However, our opponents continue to insist that after the Kharkov Council, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was divided into two branches. So, for example, answering the question "... Is it possible to consider the branch that was formed after leaving the UOC-MP also part of the Kiev Metropolia ...?", the above-mentioned K. Vetoshnikov had no scruples saying: "Well, naturally. Because this division occurred not by the will of those who are now in this part, but they were forced out, it was a compulsory measure, because there was a dismissal from the chair of the legitimate metropolitan by the decision of the Kharkov Council of 1992, in which there is not a single reference to any one canon."

That's it – no more, no less! In other words, we are to blame for making a schism, for dismissing the legitimate metropolitan from the chair "in an anticanonical way", as they say. Well, now let's remember what actually happened 25 years ago!

How was the Kiev Patriarchate born?

As is known, M.A. Denisenko was not present at the Kharkov Council on May 27, 1992. Moreover, the Council did not expel him from the Church, because a ban in priesthood is not an act of separation of a person from the Church of Christ (namely, from the UOC). It is quite possible that if Mikhail Antonovich had accepted the decisions of the Council with humility and fulfilled those promises he had made at the Council of Bishops in Moscow, he again would have been allowed to officiate either through appointment to one of the vacant episcopal chairs, or being sent to rest in one of the monasteries.

This common truth was well understood by all participants of the Council (and not only by them). Therefore, there was no schism at the Kharkov Council, including none of its participants followed M.A. Denisenko, and almost none abandoned the Church, as it turned out afterwards.

In fact, the "Kiev Patriarchate" broke away not from the ROC, and not even from the UOC, but from the same as itself, unrecognized, self-proclaimed, schismatic organization, called the UAOC (Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church). It was like this: on June 25-26, 1992 (i.e., almost a month after the Kharkov Council), at 36 Pushkinskaya Str. in Kiev, in the presence of M. A. Denisenko, a meeting of several bishops of the UAOC and deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine took place, which decided to create the so-called "Kiev Patriarchate". This decision was shortly rejected by the leadership of the UAOC, as a result of which the so-called UOC-KP broke away from the schismatic UAOC.

The canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which gained independence in governance in October 1990 (that is even earlier than Ukraine gained independence) and headed by Metropolitan Vladimir (Sobodan) from May 1992, has nothing to do with this event.

In fact, we cannot even talk about the schism that took place. The "Kiev Patriarchate" in general has never had any relation to the canonical Orthodox Church, as, indeed, to the Universal Orthodoxy. In this sense, before us, as it is called "in all its glory", there is a picture of self-proclaiming a pseudo-Orthodox Church of the Protestant type by some group of people. That is why Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko) was absolutely right when he said that the "Kiev Patriarchate" tends to become a neo-Protestant sect with an external preservation of the Orthodox ritual..." (3).

However, this is not just a trend: the Kiev Patriarchate frankly professes Protestant ecclesiology (that is, the Protestant doctrine of the Church of Christ), which further alienates itself from the Universal Orthodoxy (4).

Who can be expelled from the Church, and who cannot?

Answering this question, V. Vetoshnikov said the following, "Because when we talk about the schism, it is not only one side that has disengaged, but the other side is also to blame. In particular, in existing divisions in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, one cannot unequivocally accuse those who have withdrawn, they did not withdraw themselves, but were withdrawn."

It is unclear who prevented M.A. Denisenko from repenting and accepting the legal (about this we still talk below) canonical decision of the Kharkov Council? So, he would have stayed in the Church. What else did he want? Or now, every offended cleric and bishop will consider it his duty to put on a patriarchal cowl and declare himself "the patriarch of Vinnitsia, Nemirov, Lugansk, Lvov", or as Grushevsky said – of "Ukraine-Rus"?

Of course, nobody can be expelled from the Church. In this sense, even the proclamation of an anathema to this or that person in the full-absolute sense is not an act of excommunicating a person from the Church. As well as the priesthood is not an act of excommunication of a person from the Church. In contrast to the Western Christian understanding of the anathema: "In Orthodoxy, the church Anathema is ... a healing act of isolation from the community of believers, an act of upbringing both in relation to the anathematized and towards the faithful community" (5).

In fact, the declaration of anathema is equivalent to a situation in which the Church declares to its fullness that one or another person has excommunicated himself from the Church, has moved away from Christ, and therefore, he no longer belongs to the True Church of Christ. However, as already mentioned, in this case too, the Church does not give up hope that such a person can return to fold through repentance.

That's why no one has ever expelled Denisenko from the Church, neither have been Aria, Nestorius and other heretics and schismatics expelled from the Church. These people themselves tear themselves away from the Church's fullness, in effect separating themselves from the Body of Christ. The church, in these cases, only ascertains the fact of such separation, forbidding by conciliar decisions to enter into eucharistic communion with these people.

Another thing is how the Church should behave in this situation? Our opponents believe that we must turn a blind eye to the sins and erroneous opinions of these people. A strange position, isn’t it? What would the Church become today if it had not tried, throughout its centuries-old history, to correct the erring (including the presumptuous clergymen and bishops) and was indifferent to the erroneous opinions that perverted the church doctrine?

But if we bring such arguments of our opponents to its logical conclusion, we will have to admit that keeping the purity of faith and the purity of their ranks, the Church in vain convened the Ecumenical and Local Councils, fighting against heretics and schismatics. Well, isn’t that absurd? Or is it so difficult for our schismatics to look beyond their nose?

How do they speculate on history?

However, not everything is as simple as it seems at first glance. The fact is that our opponents also try to look to church history. Justifying the actions of M. A. Denisenko, they state the following: "... I can draw an analogy with the Russian diaspora in the twentieth century, one part of which was called the "Karlovac schism", the other part was called the" Paris schism". Why did these structures withdrew from the Moscow Patriarchate? In principle, they were expelled from the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), who declared himself Deputy Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, stated that all clerics who did not stop criticizing the Soviet government would be excluded from the clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate: "We demanded that the foreign clergy give a written commitment in full loyalty to the Soviet Government in all their social activities. Those who did not give such an obligation or violated it will be excluded from the clergy subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate. We think that by disengaging in this way, we will be secured from all kinds of surprises from abroad." (6).

What can I say?

First, after the October coup, dozens of bishops, thousands of clerics and laity, left Russia. So, the ROC in fact was divided. It is as the Orthodox Ukrainians are now separated as a result of the current ATO. Agree, this is a completely different situation than the demarche of Filaret (Denisenko). On the other hand, the example of K.Vetoshnikov would be more suitable for understanding the relationship between the two already existing branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, namely, on the one hand, the UOC, and on the other hand, the UOC in Canada, which is under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Constantinople.

Secondly, bishops, clerics and laity outside Russia did not create new pseudo-church formations: some of them remained in the ROC, and some entered the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But no one created a new local church, especially when leaving for the schismatics and concluding with them and politicians certain unions. Those who finally broke off communication with all the Church's fullness still cannot be considered to belong to the Orthodox Church. Here, as they say, everything is clear as a white day.

In fact, Patriarch Sergius invited his opponents to decide for themselves what church jurisdiction they now belong to. I'm certainly not sure that he did the right thing. And yet, for the sake of justice, it should be noted that there is no prohibition in the Church on changing the ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The main thing is that these transitions are not committed in an arbitrary manner, but in a canonical field.

I am sure if Denisenko had asked to be admitted, for example, to the clergy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine, nobody would have prevented him.

What are the canonical reasons for the decisions of the Kharkov Council?

Today, our opponents say a lot about the fact that the decisions of the Kharkov Council did not have any reasons. Let's quote again K. Vetoshnikov – that's what he writes: "For me, the decision to condemn Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) was not entirely adequate, and it is rather canonically illiterately written. Therefore, in fact, they themselves separated him. He did not fall into any schism. Until the decision of the Moscow Council to strip him of the priesthood, he had been mentioning the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia until this moment. That is, in principle, it was impossible to accuse him of schismatic actions. Because the canons say: "If it be, his name will not be raised" (rules 13-15 of the Double Council). But he continued to mention."

Further, Vetoshnikov quotes the 15th rule of the Double Council, but does it only partially.

Indeed, in fact M. A. Denisenko fell into schism only a month after the Kharkov Council. But his schismatic actions (to which there is a huge amount of evidence) he had begun long before that. And as for his immoral behavior, violation of monastic vows and hierarchical oaths, one cannot even speak of. But Vetoshnikov for some reason keeps silent about this and "forgets" to cite in full the 15th rule of the Double Council, which reads the following: "Those who depart from communion with the primate, for the sake of certain heresies condemned by holy councils or fathers, when, that is, He preaches heresy publicly and teaches it openly in church, and if any protect themselves from communicating with the bishop before the conciliar consideration, they are not only not subject to the rules of penance, but worthy of honor suited to Orthodoxy. For they condemned not the bishops, but the false bishops and false teachers, and not by schism prevent the unity of the church, but tried to guard the Church from schisms and divisions."

This means that any clergyman, layman, and even more so a bishop, could cease the church's communion with Filaret (Denisenko) even before the adoption of the conciliar decrees. For example, this could have been done immediately after it became clear that Denisenko was not going to carry out the obligations and promises that were taken publicly at the Bishops' Council of the ROC, which directly meant a public (i.e., not demanding proof) refusal to subordinate to the Patriarch of Moscow. And the fact that he was trying to impose a Protestant ecclesiology on the Church through his schismatic actions.

Here is how the famous Orthodox canonist Bishop Nikodim (Milaš) commented on this situation (namely, the 15th rule of the Double Council): "Supplementing the 13th and 14th rules of the present council, the given rule (15) prescribes that if the said relation should exist with the presbyter to the bishop and the bishop to the metropolitan, then all the more should be such attitude to the patriarch who should have in canonical obedience all the metropolitans, bishops, elders and other clerics of the subject patriarchate."

Commenting further on this rule, Bishop Nikodim notes the following: "Having determined this with respect to obedience to the patriarch, this rule makes a general observation on all three rules (13-15), namely, that all these prescriptions are valid only if schisms arise for unproven crimes: of the patriarch, metropolitan and bishop. But if any of the bishops, metropolitans or patriarchs begins preaching any heretical doctrine that is contrary to Orthodoxy, then the other clergy are right and even obliged to immediately separate from the subject bishop, metropolitan and patriarch, and for this they not only will be not subject to any canonical punishment, on the contrary, they will be awarded with praise, for by that they did not condemn and rebel against true, legitimate bishops, but against false bishops, false teachers; and doing so they did not make a schism in the church, on the contrary, to the extent possible, they freed the church from schism, warned the division."

So, the Kharkov Council did not excommunicate Denisenko from the Church, did not strip him of the priesthood (it happened a bit later). The Kharkov Council, guided by the above-quoted, general church canonical decrees, made the first serious attempt to reason with the erring Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko). An attempt, whose necessity and rightness was confirmed by the subsequent development of events in Ukraine. This attempt was approved by the whole Church fullness, which was confirmed by all the Local Orthodox Churches, recognizing the legality of the decisions of the Kharkov Council, and His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir (Sobodan) as the new head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

In short, the fact that the decisions of the Kharkov Council were recognized by the fullness of the Church said about their legitimacy and canonical nature (7). The Doctor of Theology, of all people, should know about this.

However, our opponents here also try to pour their "spoonful of tar" into the Orthodox "barrel of honey," claiming as much as: "No one challenged it (the Kharkov Council – note of the author), because the Moscow Patriarchate in every possible way prevents this. But if you follow the logic, this issue has already reached the Pan-Orthodox level" (8).

Unfortunately for our schismatics, but these words contain a clear contradiction.

Firstly – what does that have to do with Moscow, if the decision of the Kharkov Council is not challenged within the Church which held it?

And, secondly, the fact that these decisions are recognized by all the fullness of the Universal Church, speaks for itself that the matter was brought to the Pan-Orthodox level and was successfully resolved at this level.

References:

  1. https://risu.org.ua/ru/index/expert_thought/interview/65570
  2. Может ли Православная Церковь быть национальной?
  3. Митрополит Александр (Драбинко) пошел ва-банк, часть 1
  4. Почему Вселенское Православие никогда не признает раскольников 
  5. Православная Энциклопедия. Т. 2. «Ал-Ан». Статья «Анафема». Церковно-научный центр «Православная Энциклопедия». Москва. 2001., с. 275.
  6. https://risu.org.ua/ru/index/expert_thought/interview/65570
  7. Как манипулируют на присоединении Киевской митрополии. Часть 2
  8. https://risu.org.ua/ru/index/expert_thought/interview/65570
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