Schismatics remain schismatics: key theses of Athonite elders regarding OCU

02 May 2019 00:01
Maletich, Denisenko and Dumenko remain schismatics for Athonites Maletich, Denisenko and Dumenko remain schismatics for Athonites

What 12 respected elders of the Holy Mount declared about the Ukrainian split, Tomos for the OCU and actions of Patriarch Bartholomew.

On March 17, 2019, a group of elders of the Holy Mountain, most of whom reside in the administrative capital of Athos, Karey, wrote a letter to the Holy Kinot stating their position on the OCU.

For those who do not know: Kinot is a governing body of the Holy Mount brotherhood, a kind of parliament of Athos.

The authors of the letter asked Kinot to ban Ukrainian schismatics from entering the territory of the Holy Mountain. This position of the Athonite, who have always been distinguished by great hospitality and love of neighbor, is very tough. But if we look into the text of the letter, we will understand the reasons for both the rigid attitude towards the Ukrainian schismatics, and the rejection of their legalization by Patriarch Bartholomew.

What prompted the Athonite to openly protest against the OCU? There are several such motives.

Soteriological motive

According to the monastics, those who support the Ukrainian dissenters endanger their own salvation. “The Holy Scripture and the fatherly tradition repeatedly teach that heresy and schism lead to destruction, because the Holy Spirit does not work there,” they remind. For "heresy and schism are the works of the devil".

Brethren of the Holy Mount clearly declare that they will not take Communion "with the Ukrainian schismatics, excommunicated from the Eucharistic communion, deprived of their dignity by the Russian Church", since such a practice, in their opinion, is insanity and can render “their labors and aspirations worthless”, thus threatening their salvation.

Ecclesiological motive

Fathers are sure that the legalization of the Ukrainian split by Patriarch Bartholomew reminds of the situation that already existed in the XI century, when in 1054 the largest schism occurred in the history of Christianity. And while the papal claims and heretical teachings of the Western Church were to blame for the split then, now the “exclusive responsibility” for the pan-Orthodox crisis “lies with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when schisms, not even heresies, are justified”.

They believe that the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew not only fail overcome the schismatic problem in Ukraine, but, on the contrary, contribute to its "perpetuation at the local level and at the level of the entire Orthodoxy". They warn that there is a possibility of an “inter-Athonite split”.

Ethical motive

The elders of Athos are sure that the visits of the Ukrainian schismatics to the Holy Mountain "are not about pilgrimage", but are calculated for the authority of Athos, which will allow them to go "out of pan-Orthodox isolation" and achieve "their lawless plans". The Athonites emphasize that their tough stance on the rejection of the OCU representatives is dictated by their unwillingness to participate in the persecutions of the canonical Church of Ukraine.

The letter of the Athonite monks is quite sizeable. They cite a huge number of arguments that do not allow them to accept the legalization of the Ukrainian split. It is these arguments that allow them to make their position more than reasonable and their motivation justified. Therefore, we highlight the main theses and arguments.

1. Schismatics have no grace

"The schismatics have no legitimate succession and all their sacraments are not valid as they fell away from the grace of the Holy Spirit."

Argument: The Athonites emphasize that Makariy Maletich, banned from the priesthood, "was ordained a bishop not merely by schismatics, but at the same time deprived of formal canonical succession". Hence, his “episcopal consecration” cannot be considered valid, as are the subsequent “consecrations” of other schismatic “bishops”.

2. Schismatics are out of the Church fold

Argument: Communion with the Ukrainian schismatics is impossible, since they are outside the Church, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate also recognized: “Would it not be inexcusable negligence and folly to render our labors and aspirations worthless by communing with the Ukrainian schismatics who are removed from Eucharistic communion and defrocked by the Russian Church to which they belonged for more than three centuries, according to the unchanging, continuous, and general recognition of all Orthodoxy, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate?”

3. Patriarch Bartholomew had no right to lift anathema from Ukrainian schismatics

Argument: The Synod of another Church cannot reinstate in communion those who were excommunicated. It can be done by the Church which imposed this punishment on them. The fathers then point to the 2nd canon of the Antioch Council, whereby “those who enter into communion with the excommunicated ought themselves to be excommunicated and the excommunicated cannot be reinstated by another Church.”  

4. Patriarch Bartholomew had no right to accept an appeal from Ukrainian schismatics

Argument: The elders of the Holy Mount are sure: the thesis of the patriarchal theologians that the Ecumenical Throne has the right to consider appeals from representatives of other Churches "contradicts the conciliar system of governing the Church, in which all patriarchs and primates are considered equal to each other, and Constantinople has only primacy of honor, not power, which the Pope claims to have. The right to hear appeals applies only to those belonging to their own jurisdiction, but not to the jurisdiction of other patriarchs.”

The Fathers then refer to the comments on the 9th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, “one of our greatest theologians and canonists”: “The Constantinople primate has no right to act in dioceses and areas of other patriarchs, and this rule did not give him the right to consider appeals in whatever case in the Ecumenicall Church.” Another authoritative canonist of the Orthodox Church, Zonara, shares the same opinion.

5. Patriarch Bartholomew, having entered into communion with schismatics, became the violator of sacred canons himself

Argument: To substantiate this statement, the Athonite monks refer to the 33rd rule of the Laodicean Council, "which forbids joint prayers with heretics and schismatics", and the 2nd rule of the Council of Antioch, which "determines that those who will be in communion with the excommunicated will be excommunicated themselves”.

6. Schismatics remained schismatics

Argument: The fathers of the Holy Mountain emphasize that “the enthronement of ‘archbishop’ Epiphany was not attended by any Church in the person of its representative and also that despite the intolerable pressure, over the past three months, no Church has entered into communion with his ‘Church’". This fact gives them the right to assert that “metropolitan” Epiphany is a schismatic, while his “Church” is pseudo-autocephaly.

Arising from the above, the monks of the Holy Mount are perplexed why the people, whom all Orthodox Christians considered schismatics, were "arbitrarily allowed into communion only by Patriarch Bartholomew alone"?

7. The only canonical Church of Ukraine is the one led by Metropolitan Onuphry

Argument: The monks remind that “all without exception autocephalous Churches until today have always considered and consider the Ukrainian Church to be part of the Russian Church, and recognize the wise and humble Vladyka Onuphry as the Metropolitan of Kiev”. Only this autonomous Church in Ukraine, which, in the words of the Athonite fathers, "belongs to the jurisdiction of the Russian Church", is canonical and legal.

8. Kiev Metropolis has been under jurisdiction of the Russian Church for over 300 years

Argument: Athos elders cite a historical reference, according to which “until 1686 Ukraine was subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as before, until 1590, the Russian Church was subordinate to it. In 1686, by the act of Patriarch Dionysius IV, the Kiev Metropolis came under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, in which, by common Orthodox consent, it has remained to this day for 333 years.”

They are perplexed to notice that only after 333 years the Ecumenical Patriarchate suddenly “discovered that Ukraine belongs to the jurisdiction not of the Russian but of the Church of Constantinople!” The Athonites are sure that “inattentive or militant theologians” of the Ecumenical Throne “concealed and misinterpreted many documents and opinions in order to arrive at a ridiculous conclusion about the temporary nature of the transfer of Ukraine to the Russian Church (temporary character lasted more than three centuries!)”.

9. Moral offences of schismatics

Argument: Athonites remind that “the most important figures (of the past and present) of the schismatic “hierarchs” are subject to accusations both by the church courts (not only of the Ukrainian Church, but also of Constantinople, Bulgarian, etc.) and civil courts for committing serious moral crimes, unthinkable for lay people, let alone for non-Christians!” Most likely, there is a hint at pedophilia of one of the most notorious figures of the Ukrainian schism Chekalin, who participated in Maletich’s “ordination”.

The Fathers emphasize that Ukrainian autocephalists "are aggravated by active intervention in the relatively recent Bulgarian schism, links with Ukrainian Uniates, terrible persecution of the canonical Church with the assistance of state authorities, <…> recent inappropriate rhetoric of “archbishop” Epiphany with regard to homosexuals, etc."

Summing up, they come to the conclusion that the status of the new autocephaly looks problematic because:

• Patriarch Bartholomew invaded foreign canonical territory;
• the Patriarch bestowed autocephaly arbitrarily;
• the canonical Local Church did not ask for this autocephaly;
• moreover, the canonical Church expressed the opposite opinion;
• on this issue, instead of pan-Orthodox consensus we have a pan-Orthodox objection;
• reference to the right to hear appeals is non-canonical;
• a claim to jurisdiction after more than three centuries, accompanied by the reinterpretation of the relevant documents, is ridiculous.

Thus, the position of many highly respected Fathers of the Holy Mountain, despite pressure from the Constantinople Patriarchate, remains true to the canonical tradition of our Church. For them there exist no OCU, Epiphany is a “false metropolitan”, while his religious organization is a “false church”.

This means that all the efforts of Patriarch Bartholomew in the end will be futile because it is impossible to legalize evil and untruth.

One can only hope that the Phanar will finally understand an indisputable fact that the Church is the Body of Christ, which leads a person to the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than an organization that solves geopolitical problems. The schism, which is threatening the Orthodox Church, can only be overcome by the recognition by Patriarch Bartholomew of his mistake and the repentance of the schismatics.

Any other way will only lead to perdition, since there can be nothing common between Christ and Belial.

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