Delusion of autocephaly: bitter experience of the Church of Czech Lands

Phanar recognized Metropolitan Rostislav only because of the threat of disruption of the Cretan Council in 2016 (photo – romfea.gr)

All the goings-on in Ukraine perfectly copy the schism in the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia. Yet one can be sure – Phanar will not give any independence to anyone.

Recently, the Czech Internet resource www.prazsky-spravodaj.cz published the full version of an article by the doctor of theology from Prague, Jakub Irji Jukl entitled “The Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the Crisis of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia”.

As a repeated participant in the Diocesan Assembly of the Prague eparchy, it was extremely useful and important for me to hear an opinion about the current events in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia from the person in the leadership of Prague eparchy (member of the Diocesan Council) and, at the same time, a historian and theologian. I fully confirm the information presented in the article of Dr. Jukl and, based on its text, I want to focus on some details.

The first actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the Czech Republic in the 1920s plunged the local Orthodox community into a schism known in church history as Sabbatian. The attempt of the Constantinople Patriarchate during this period to subjugate the nascent Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia led to a division among the few clerics and laity, sowing distrust and hostility in the hearts of the people.

On 2 March 1923, the Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a Tomos “On the establishment of the Orthodox Archbishopric in the Czechoslovak Republic” and ordained Sabbatius (Vrabts) as bishop, thus creating a parallel ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Obviously, the Patriarchate of Constantinople did not seek to help unite and strengthen Orthodox communities of Czechoslovakia, which critically complicated the local church revival. However, the people did not support the appointee of Constantinople, and got united around Bishop Gorazd (Pavlik), who later suffered a martyr's demise.

In 1951, the Czechoslovak Orthodox Church was granted autocephaly from the Mother Church of Russia. Despite all the difficulties of the historical period, Orthodoxy in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, after being granted independent status, developed quite actively and dynamically: a seminary was opened that trained local clergy, liturgical books and general ecclesiastic magazines were published, new monasteries and parishes were established.

It was not until 1998 that the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the autocephalous status of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, but with many reservations and requirements that would make the Local Church dependent on Constantinople. However, the implementation of the provisions of Tomos in the Statute of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia was delayed, and therefore, the Constantinople Patriarchate took specific steps to completely subjugate the Local Church through the creation of schism and subsequent “healing” on its own terms.

On 19 October 2013, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France arrived in Prague and took part in the Diocesan Assembly of the Prague eparchy, convened to elect a new archbishop of Prague after retirement of Metropolitan Christopher (Pultz). In his speech, Metropolitan Emmanuel stated that the Patriarchate of Constantinople did not recognize any of the candidates for the position of archbishop of Prague, thereby effectively disrupting the voting procedure. This was the first step in the generation of the split and an attempt to subjugate the Local Church.

Metropolitan Emmanuel stated that the Patriarchate of Constantinople did not recognize any of the candidates for the position of archbishop of Prague, thereby effectively disrupting the voting procedure. This was the first step in the generation of the split and an attempt to subjugate the Local Church.

The next step, according to the Constantinople Patriarchate, consisted in the complete seizure of administration in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Taking advantage of the ambitions of the aged Archbishop Simeon of Olomouc (then elected as Metropolitan Throne's Locum Tenens by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia), at his invitation in December 2013, two delegates of the Constantinople Patriarchate arrived at the meeting of the Synod of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia: “expert” in schism, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and his colleague, Metropolitan Arseniy of Austria.

Archbishop Simeon agreed to admit these two hierarchs of the Constantinople Patriarchate to the Synod also with the right to vote, hoping with their help to become the Primate of the Church. As you know, Archbishop Simeon at this meeting of the Synod tried to dismiss, under false pretexts, two bishops of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Thus, only two bishops would remain in the Synod – Archbishop Rostislav of Presov and Archbishop Simeon, who, as Locum Tenens, had a decisive vote and authority to admit the bishops of the Constantinople Patriarchate to the Synod. Only the position of all the bishops of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia (except Archbishop Simeon) and the support of the Russian Orthodox Church did not allow the Patriarchate of Constantinople at that time to completely seize leadership in the Church.

The next step, according to the Constantinople Patriarchate, was a complete seizure of administration in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

Having suffered an insulting defeat, Constantinople did not sit idle and continued its struggle to subordinate the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. The Patriarchate of Constantinople did not recognize the actions of the Local Council of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia regarding the election of His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav as Primate, and continued to support Archbishop Simeon as Locum Tenens. What is this all about – the desire to preserve the purity of the canons or the requirement of strict execution of the Statute of the Local Church? No, the Statute (Chapter 2, Article 2, Paragraph 3) clearly articulates the election of the Locum Tenens by the Holy Synod, which was fully performed by the Bishops of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. At the same time, Archbishop Simeon of Olomouc, being Locum Tenens, violated the Statute in Part 2, Art. 2, Para. 4, which states: "If the post of the metropolitan is vacant, the Holy Synod is obliged to organize the election of a new metropolitan within a period not exceeding 40 days." After the retirement of Metropolitan Christopher in April 2013, Archbishop Simeon did not convene a synod to prepare for the Local Council, fearing to lose power. In this sense, it was necessary to change the Locum Tenens in order to convene the Local Council and elect the Primate.

The letter of the Patriarchate of Constantinople dated 26 August 2015 (about the non-recognition of His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav as Primate and the demand for new elections – see Dr. Jukl’s article) completely destabilized the inner life of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia and gave the schismatics a chance to seize the leadership of the Church.

The letter of the Patriarchate of Constantinople dated 26 August 2015 (about the non-recognition of His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav as the Primate and the demand for new elections – see Dr. Jukl’s article) completely destabilized the inner life of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia and gave the schismatics a chance to seize the leadership of the Church.

However, quite soon, namely on 14 January 2016, an absolutely amazing event happened – the signing of the communique on the recognition of Metropolitan Rostislav as Primate of the Church. What outstanding, on the verge of a miracle, happened in this short period? Or maybe, finally, in ancient Constantinople, they understood the details of the problems or made a really weighted decision!? The answer is extremely simple and the solution is pragmatic: in a few days, namely on 21–27January 2016, there was a run-up to the Pre-Council Conference of the Heads of the Orthodox Churches and the absence of one of the Local Churches jeopardized the preparation and convocation of the Pan-Orthodox Council. And in this case, a well-known firm position of the Russian Orthodox Church about the impossibility of convening the Council without the participation of one of the Local Churches, prompted the Constantinople Patriarchate to the forced recognition of Metropolitan Rostislav as Primate. Indicative in this case is the “canonical principle” of the Constantinople Patriarchate, its deft exploitation of the “historical tradition” and the use, if necessary, of the “salvation oikonomia”.

Having conducted the Cretan Council, the Patriarchate of Constantinople did not give up its plans to seize the Local Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, changing only its tactics. Now, instead of including its bishops in the Synod, the Patriarchate of Constantinople demands a change in the Statute of the Orthodox Church, according to which the Local Church will in fact lose its autocephalous status. Again, the main lever of pressure is the threat of intensification of the split through supporting the schismatics who are waiting for revenge.

Epilogue

Schism has always existed as an element of church life. The devil is the father of the schism and the first schismatic of the spiritual world; Christ's disciple Judas is the first schismatic of Christianity. Ambitions and lust for power being sources of all schisms have been and will, unfortunately, remain in church life like a sin. Being in the Church does not guarantee correction, which is based only on one’s personal choice. The Church responds to those sewing schisms, feuds, splits with the words of Christ: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). But the Church must be in unity and unequivocally express its attitude to schism and schismatics, not splitting in itself and not dividing schismatics into good and bad. A common and unified attitude towards any schism is a key to minimizing splits in the future.

Unfortunately, at present we are witnessing the cultivation of splits as a tool of pressure and the achievement of goals by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The “elder sister” from the family of the Local Churches always had a chance to be truly an example for all the Churches – in terms of mutual aid, consolidation and unification, as well as cessation of intrigue and enmity. The deep crisis in which the Patriarchate of Constantinople fell at the beginning of the 20th century made it possible to unite all the Churches in support of the Great Church – with a view to healing its plight and integrating World Orthodoxy. However, tempted by the commotions in the Russian Orthodox Church that occurred after 1917, the Patriarchate of Constantinople chose the path of expansion as an element of survival with the subordination of "poorly lying" territories. From that moment on, the schism became the breeding ground for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose instrument is pseudo-healing.

The history of the Church confirms there will always be career-conscious and power-hungry people in Her Body who, in order to achieve their goals, will agree to any intrigue and schism, only if they have a chance to be legalized. While the “grace” of the schismatics is centered on the “tip of the pen” of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the trend towards schism will be only expanding.

Currently, one of the priority issues of the inter-Orthodox dialogue should be to exclude the possibility of maintaining a split in any form and manifestation. In each Church, there are those who are disgruntled and offended, who can easily be used to put pressure on the canonical Church through appeals to the Patriarchate of Constantinople (although the Patriarchate of Constantinople itself is not an exception ...).

The problems of recent years in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia are a vivid example of the absolute man-made split with the use of a completely specific technology. One can sincerely regret that the activities of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in recent times are not suggestive of possible peaceful life of the Holy Local Churches without the obsessive “care” of the Mother Church…

Everything that is happening in Ukraine is an exact copy of the schism in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia – there are offended men, there are ambitious careerists, and, most importantly, there is a conviction of schismatics in their legalization – the only thing that keeps the schism from falling apart. But one can be absolutely sure that the Patriarchate of Constantinople will never grant any complete independence to any church structure in the Orthodox world.

In conclusion, I will express my opinion on church events in Ukraine. Everything that happens in Ukraine is an exact copy of the schism in the Orthodox Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia – there are offended men, there are ambitious careerists, and, most importantly, there is a conviction of schismatics in their legalization – the only thing that keeps the schism from falling apart. But one can be absolutely sure that the Patriarchate of Constantinople will not grant any complete independence to any church structure in the Orthodox world. If the Charter of the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, which has the autocephalous status, is subjected to change so that it will make the Church absolutely dependent, then what can one say about the supposed new “independent” church entities?

P.S. On 20-21 August 2018, Arseny of Austria, Metropolitan of Constantinople Patriarchate again visited Moravia (center of schism in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia). At the suggestion of the “vicar” of the Olomouc diocese, Isaiah Slaninka, Metropolitan Arseniy chose a place to open a metochion (mission) of the Constantinople Patriarchate in this diocese. All the actions of the leadership of the Olomouc diocese and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as far as is known, take place without the consent of the Primate of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav.

The rationale of recent developments in the Czech Republic and Ukraine gives a firm conviction that should one of the Local Churches be subordinated to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the same fate awaits all other Churches, since a fundamental precedent is created that changes a conciliar mechanism in the relations between Orthodox Churches. The method for implementation, obviously, has already been chosen: if one feels disgruntled and offended by the local church leadership (and such ones do exist!), then the “love and protection” of the Constantinople Patriarchate is rushing to embrace you!

Obviously, local schismatics want to enlist the support of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, who in turn expects to form in the Czech Republic human resources for leadership of the Church. By the way, on 1-2 September 2018, the Olomouc diocese was visited by Metropolitan Alexander (Drabinko), having handed Isaiah Slaninka a gift “with a hint” – a primate tee, while Isaiah himself regularly visits the famous bay on the shores of the Bosphorus ...

The rationale of recent developments in the Czech Republic and Ukraine gives a firm conviction that should one of the Local Churches be subordinated to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the same fate awaits all other Churches, since a fundamental precedent is created that changes a conciliar mechanism in the relations between Orthodox Churches. The method for implementation, obviously, has already been chosen: if one feels disgruntled and offended by the local church leadership (and such ones do exist!), then the “love and protection” of the Constantinople Patriarchate is rushing to embrace them!

It is a pity that Christ did not know the canons as they are interpreted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople – maybe, in this case Judas would not have hung himself (by oikonomia) ...

Prazsky Telegraph

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What do you think Poroshenko creates under the guise of the Single Local Church?
a new schismatic structure controlled by the state
51%
an autocephalous Church, which Phanar will take under its omophorion
16%
it does not matter – it will not work out anyway
33%
Total votes: 247

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