SLC shows the way to Union: how autocephaly will play into Catholics’ hands

Archbishop Job (Getcha) of Telmessos at a private audience with the Pope

There is every reason to believe that the legalization of the Ukrainian schism in one form or another will help promote, if not a union, an extremely liberal ecumenism.

This is evidenced by four factors.

First, 20 years ago the Ukrainian Greek Catholics already put forward the concept of a unified Ukrainian Church, which would include both Uniates and Orthodox. According to their plan, this structure should be at the same time in communion with the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Now the head of the UGCC Sviatoslav Shevchuk openly welcomes the creation of the Single Local Church (SLC) and declares that this is only the first step towards the full merger of the Ukrainian Orthodox with Greek Catholics. Such a structure, according to the Uniates, will give a powerful impetus to the "unification processes" around the world.

Secondly, among the Ukrainian politicians in power, there are a lot of Greek Catholics who lobby pro-Uniate projects under the guise of the "European" course of Ukraine. The union of the Orthodox with the Greek Catholics is quite within the strategy of nationalist-minded political forces.

Thirdly, the schismatics, who are supposed to be the basis for the creation of the SLC, are quite indifferent to the questions of faith and are either silent on the attitude to Catholicism or speak nicely of the UGCC. We can assume that they will do and say everything that Phanar and the Ukrainian authorities will tell them. The same can be said about individual representatives of the UOC who are likely to join the SLC – Father Georgy Kovalenko with his "Open Orthodox University", which regularly hosts ecumenical meetings and puts forward very liberal ideas.

Finally, fourthly, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is known for his Filo-Catholicism and a very broad interpretation of Orthodox ecclesiology. Its representatives have repeatedly made statements that are not in line with the traditional Orthodox teaching about the Church and the position of other Local Churches.

So, in June 2016, one of the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Bishop Kyrillos (Katerelos) of Abydos made a shocking statement. In his opinion, the Orthodox Church is not the only Church of the Creed. That is, the "Unified Cathedral Apostolic Church", which we confess, does not coincide in its borders with the Orthodox Church, but also includes other "Churches".

Another repeater of Phanar’s position can be considered Bishop Job (Getcha) of Telmessos. This is a very significant figure, which is considered as a possible head of the SLC or the Constantinople exarchate in Ukraine. Now this person is a representative of Constantinople to the World Council of Churches and holds the post of co-chairman of the commission for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue! This commission is under the Patriarchate of Constantinople and occasionally appears in scandals related to the excessively pro-Catholic dialogue.

For example, in 2008 and 2009, in Crete and Cyprus respectively, the issue of the primacy of the Roman Pope was considered. A preliminary document was entitled "The Role of the Bishop of Rome in Communion between Churches in millennium I", which was published in social media by an Italian blogger. The text of the document as too justifying the Catholic dogma of the papacy immediately aroused the scandal in the Orthodox community.

The response of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to criticism of this document and criticism in general is typical – it tried to shift the emphasis to the fact that all decisions within the framework of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue are allegedly of pan-Orthodox nature. Meanwhile, this is not always the case. For example, the so-called Balamand document (in which the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were called "sister Churches") was not signed by representatives of a number of Local Churches, and some of those who signed did not have the authority to do so. The same trick was used by the Patriarchate of Constantinople during the Crete Council, when it insisted that even in the absence of the four Local Churches its decisions were pan-Orthodox.

During the Council, Archbishop Job was its speaker and actively defended a scandalous document on the relationship of the Orthodox Church to the "rest of the Christian world". Back in May 2016, he delivered a lecture, in which he practically called all the critics of this document (including professors of theology and bishops) "illiterate" ignoramuses.

Getcha’s speech provides a picture of the ecclesiological position of Constantinople.

Its essence can be reduced to the following theses:

  1. Catholics do not need to rebaptize.
  2. Catholics are neither heretics nor schismatics.
  3. Between Catholics and Orthodox, there is simply a "break of communion."
  4. Everyone who criticizes the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue is an ignorant fundamentalist who "did not read Florovsky".
  5. Sacraments can be performed outside the Church (refers to Augustine).
  6. Ecumenical dialogue is absolutely pan-Orthodox. That is, all approve of everything.

It is interesting that in his lecture Archbishop Job quotes Greek specialist on canon law Vlasios Fidas, whom Father Kirill Govorun hinted at as an author of the text of the tomos on Ukrainian autocephaly. So, in the opinion of this "outstanding and ingenious canonist", the Catholic Church is not schismatic, because ... the anathemas of 1054 were lifted. Therefore, he describes the relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches as a simple "break of communion". This approach is extremely primitive, far from genius canonism. It is not surprising if we see the same shallow legal casuistry in the tomos on granting autocephaly to the schismatics.

Constantinople tries to make reservations that the ecumenical dialogue does not involve compromises in the field of faith and it does not prepare a "new union". However, the categorical refusal to classify Catholics as schismatics or heretics is already a compromise! A compromise is the actual recognition of the Catholic Church as a part of the Universal (Ecumenical) Church. In this context, the notion of "schism" is meaningless. As if the status of the Catholic Church cannot be considered as schism and heresy, then what is schism and heresy in general? If relations with Catholics are characterized simply as a "break of communion", this means that Fidas recognizes the Catholic Church as part of the Universal Church along with the Orthodox. That is, the "restoration of the unity of Christians", referred to in the Crete document in relation to Catholics, boils down to a simple resumption of communion, rather than a return from the schism. This ecclesiology itself is already a radical one-sided compromise because Catholics do not profess such ecclesiology and do not consider the Orthodox Church a part of the Universal Church.

Catholics say that the One Catholic and Apostolic Church "is" exclusively in the Catholic Church (historical and visible). In Orthodox "churches," it only "acts" mainly due to their potential or unconscious unity with the Roman throne. The term "sister Churches" refers exclusively to the level of the Local Churches and does not imply recognition of the Orthodox Church as equal to the Catholic Church. According to Catholic theologians, the grace of the Church, although working in schismatic "churches," acts in a limited way, due to a distorted ecclesiological consciousness. This approach also causes certain difficulties in interpreting, but at least preserves the clear self-awareness of Catholics. In the case of Orthodox ecumenists, the Orthodox identity is blurred.

The main problem of ecumenists is that they cannot understand what "unity" is. They fall into a logical trap when they refuse to qualify Catholics as schismatics. If they are not schismatics, then the Universal Church covers them all and there are no problems. If so, what is ecumenism for then? Everything is already, as they say, in a "bundle". If, after all, the Universal Church is reduced to either the Catholic or the Orthodox Church, this inevitably entails the need to introduce the concept of schism, because it is unclear how one can be outside the Church and not be a schismatic or heretic. All the scholastic tricks to avoid these problems look like attempts to "square the circle". Florovsky's theology does not completely solve this problem. The very formulation "to seek the Church outside the Church" and the distinction between the "charismatic" and "canonical" boundaries of the Church are quite contradictory and, by the way, do not refute the concept of schism.

In this context, the aggressiveness of Archbishop Job (Getcha) in pushing such vague formulations is surprising. All the remarks made on the Crete document are absolutely fair and logical. Lumping radical anti-ecumenists-zealots with those who want clarity and precise wording is dishonest and unfair.

However, knowing Archbishop Job’s biography, much can be understood. He was born in Canada, into a family of immigrants from Galicia, who belonged to the schismatic UOC in Canada. This structure was formed from self-consecrated parishes ("samosviaty") and participants in the Bishop Polikarp autocephalous schism. In 2013, he was elected to lead the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe. However, already in 2015, Archbishop Job was transferred to another position due to a number of conflicts between him and the clergy of the Western European Exarchate. He was accused of an authoritarian style of management and a desire to destroy the traditions of this structure.

It is likely that in the case of his appointment as "Metropolitan of Kiev", he will act in the same aggressive and authoritarian way in everything that concerns ecumenism.

By the way, on June 27, 2017, on the eve of the Catholic celebration of the memory of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Archbishop Job met personally with Pope Francis. The Pope did not fail to speak out about the future full unity between the Orthodox and Catholics and stressed the importance of the experience of the first millennium. Apparently, this is the main strategy of ecumenists – to discuss the primacy of the Pope from a historical point of view. So it's easier to justify it.

Separately, it is worth mentioning Patriarch Bartholomew.

He has said recently that the merger of the Orthodox and Catholics is "irreversible." If this means that Catholics will abandon the doctrine of the primacy of the Pope and accept the Orthodox doctrine of "catholicity", then such optimism certainly inspires. But Patriarch Bartholomew never specifies what he means.

According to his ideas and actions, Patriarch Bartholomew fully copies the policies of his predecessors – Patriarch Joachim III, Meletios (Metaksakis), Athenagoras (Spira) and Demetrios (Papadopoulos).

All of them advocated a radical rapprochement with the Catholics and often expressed rather dubious thoughts, not to mention aggressive actions against other Local Churches. For example, Patriarch Meletios (Metaxakis) recognized the apostolic succession of the Anglican clergy. Already under him, a number of conflicts between Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church started to brew.

Patriarch Bartholomew met several times with Popes – Benedict XVI in 2006 and Francis in 2014. As a result of the meetings, joint statements and declarations whose content wasn’t agreed with other Local Churches were proclaimed.

On the eve of the visit of Pope Francis to Turkey in 2014, a petition was published in Greece that sharply criticized the statement of the Primate of the Constantinople Orthodox Church. In particular, it was about his modernist views on the nature of the Orthodox Church and its relationship with other Christian confessions and other religious denominations. The petition was signed by more than 2,000 persons, including six bishops, priests, Greek, Cypriot and Athonite monks.

Turning to Bartholomew’s biography, one can suppose why he strives for unity with the Catholics. From 1963 to 1968, Patriarch Bartholomew studied at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and received a doctorate degree in canon law. In addition, Bartholomew taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University. It is possible that he is so imbued with sympathy for Catholicism that he considers it possible to recognize the primacy of the Pope in one form or another.

The history of the Constantinople Patriarchate has already known Apostate Patriarchs: John XI Bekkos and Joseph II. The former made the Union of Lyons, the latter – the Union of Florence. However, there have also been fierce defenders of Orthodoxy and exposers of Catholic delusions, such as Photius. But it does not seem that Patriarch Bartholomew sympathizes with the latter. As we see, Constantinople aggressively imposes an unambiguous attitude towards Catholics in those issues in which this unambiguity is not in sight. So the accusations from the Orthodox community of the preparation of a new union are not so groundless. In this context, the SLC will become a docile tool in the implementation of Phanar's aggressive ecumenical policy.

Yesterday, Patriarch Bartholomew once again met with Pope Francis. Such meetings have already become routine. I wonder if the Ecumenical Patriarch reminded the Pope of the church in Kolomyia seized by Ukrainian Greek Catholics. How could ecumenical dialogue be possible after Kolomyia? Or, as they say, "the detachment did not notice the loss of the fighter" and, fascinated by the projects of unification with the Catholics, Patriarch Bartholomew does not notice the Uniates openly mocking at the Balamand declaration accepted by him? What good then is such ecumenism?

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