Arguments of the Greek hierarchs for OCU: Oikumena or Orthodoxy?
At the Bishops' Council of the Greek Church, Met. Ignatios of Demetrias presented the theses that guided some hierarchs in deciding on "Ukrainian autocephaly".
On October 17, 2019, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to break canonical communion with representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, who recognize the OCU as a Church, and Epiphany Dumenko as a primate. This stance of the Russian Orthodox Church is a reaction to the decisions of the recent Bishops’ Council of the Church of Greece, which are called the actual recognition of the OCU.
This spontaneously convened Council was not a gathering of like-minded people: a significant part of the bishops still considers the OCU schismatics, and some subjected the procedure of the Council and its decisions to strong criticism. Met. Seraphim of Kythira, Met. Simeon of New Smyrna and Met. Seraphim of Piraeus, in addition to an active position at the Council itself, outlined in writing arguments that did not allow them to agree with the final document, which expressed the attitude towards the OCU.
The UOJ published the statements of these hierarchs, and now we propose to present the arguments of OCU supporters who advocated for the right of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly in general and to the schismatics of Ukraine in particular (naturally, not with such a wording).
The anti-canonicity and anti-conciliarity of such a position are beyond doubt. Therefore, questions arise:
- What motivated these bishops?
- What are their arguments, how rational and justified are they?
- Is it worth deliberately splitting the Church of Christ for the sake of these arguments?
The arguments for the position of the part of the Church of Greece that advocated for the recognition and legalization of the OCU can be found in the report of Metropolitan Ignatios of Demetrias at the Council of Bishops, the full text of which was published by “Vima Orthodoxias”. Their essence boils down to several points.
Is Greece responsible for Ukrainian schismatics?
There are millions of Orthodox Ukrainians in Ukraine, for whom, according to Metropolitan Ignatios, the hierarchs of the Church of Greece are responsible: "We are talking about millions of souls of Orthodox believers ... for whom we have a responsibility."
First, since when did the Greek Church begin to bear responsibility for the Orthodox believers who live in Ukraine? Or is the metropolitan talking about the responsibility that the Greek Church as part of Ecumenical Orthodoxy bears for the whole Church in general, including for the Church in Ukraine? But then the Hellenes are responsible for the Church in Syria, Jerusalem, the USA, and other countries. Don't they have any problems? Then why is the Hellenic responsibility so oddly selective?
On the other hand, if we are talking about Ukraine, does the Church of Greece bear responsibility only for our schismatics? What about the millions of Orthodox Christians who consider themselves to be the UOC and do not want the Phanar’s autocephaly and interference in their internal affairs, the dozens of communities that have been deprived of churches, and the thousands of believers who are humiliated, defamed, beaten, disregarded, and persecuted – all these people Metropolitan Ignatios does not feel responsibility for?
Such statements, if understood in a canonical way for the Church, sound very strange. Imagine a situation when a bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declares that the UOC is responsible for Greek schismatic old-timers and is simply obliged to solve a problem that the Greek Church cannot handle. Here the situation is identical.
Does the Church of Greece bear responsibility only for our schismatics? What about the millions of Orthodox Christians who consider themselves to be the UOC and do not want the Phanar’s autocephaly and interference in their internal affairs, the dozens of communities that have been deprived of churches, and the thousands of believers who are humiliated, defamed, beaten, disregarded, and persecuted?
Metropolitan Ignatios claims that the Russian Church was to give “these millions of Orthodox believers” autocephaly immediately after the collapse of the USSR. He recalls that the request for autocephaly in 1991 was signed by Metropolitan Onuphry (the then bishop). However, the Greek hierarch hushed up the fact that this request was signed under the strongest pressure from the Ukrainian special services and the then Metropolitan Filaret (Denisenko) of Kiev, and as soon as possible almost all bishops refused it. In addition, the bishop forgets (or maybe just does not know) that the initiative of Metropolitan Filaret on autocephaly was met with strongest resistance among the believing people. And this became one of the main reasons for giving it up.
Is the annexation of the Crimea an excuse to legalize the schism?
Pointing to the Phanar’s role in attempts to give autocephaly to Ukraine, Metropolitan Ignatios suddenly speaks of the Crimea: “After the invasion of the Crimea (by the Russian Federation - Ed.), everything collapsed. Now, no one believes that it is ever possible for the Russian Church to give a solution to the Ukrainian people. This has now finally expired. From there the solution will never come.”
This thesis causes, at least, bewilderment, as well as a question: what is the relationship between the political problem of the Crimea and the topic of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church? And can it be in principle?
However, perhaps the Greek bishop simply does not know that only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is still operating in the Crimea. And in the current political situation, autocephaly for mainland Ukraine would most likely mean the final loss of the church Crimea. Nevertheless, such an ignorance of the Greek bishop cannot but be surprising, unless this ignorance is called "bias".
Russians do not recognize the primacy of Constantinople, so they must be "put in their place"?
Metropolitan Ignatios recalls that, when preparing the Crete Council in 2016, the Russian Church insisted that autocephaly should be given in a conciliar manner, i.e. signed by all the primates of the Orthodox Churches. The Phanar, in his words, insisted that after the signature of the Patriarch of Constantinople all the other signatures are no longer needed, because "this has never happened before".
The reason for this position of the Russian Church in the procedure for granting autocephaly, according to Bishop Ignatios, is in Her disagreement with the fact that there is primacy in the Church both in the East and in the West. Moreover, the Russians always break down the dialogue between Patriarch Bartholomew and the Pope because they don’t want to recognize the primacy of Constantinople, and therefore they don’t want the head of this Church to speak on behalf of the entire Orthodoxy: “This denial stems from their (ROC – Ed.) refusal to admit in the dialogue with the Roman Catholics that there is primacy in the East. That's where the problem is. I've said it before. When Roman Catholics are overwhelmed by the notion that there is a First and a Synod in the first millennium, they say, ‘Fine, show us you who are the true Church, what did you do with the primacy in the second millennium?’ Then we invoke the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Russians say, ‘No, we have no primacy in the East, no primacy in the East in the second millennium.’ And there the dialogue collapses. They knew that, if the Ecumenical Patriarch had otherwise signed in the process of administering the autopsy, they would have to somehow accept that ‘there is a First’. The Russians have a problem there."
Everyone is already used to the fact that the theses on the “Eastern Pope” are persistently being promoted by the Phanar. But the fact that such words sound from the lips of hierarchs of another Local Church, and, moreover, as an argument for the need to recognize and legitimize schismatics, cannot but shock.
It is even more shocking that the Hellenes consider it normal to consider recognition of the OCU as a means of “punishing” the obstinate Russians. And although, as one of our presidents wrote, “Ukraine is not Russia”, Ukrainians support the Russians in their reluctance to see the First in the Church. And it is not at all a matter of national or political sympathies, we just remember well what Christ said about this: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (Matt. 20, 25-27)
Does the stability with the “New Lands” equal the recognition of the OCU?
“We should never clash with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the Ukrainian question because this would have a consequence of our own division, our own post-problematic relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Why do this?”
According to Metropolitan Ignatios, the Greek Church has an agreement with the Phanar that it will never raise the “New Lands problem”.
Dioceses in the territories that became part of the Greek state after the Balkan wars at the beginning of the 20th century, that is, after the formation of the Greek Church (1850), fall into this category. These are the territories of Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace and the islands in the northern Aegean. In fact, they have double subordination to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece, which was settled by the 1928 agreements. So far, the subordination of these dioceses to Constantinople is rather formal. In fact, the status of these bishops almost does not differ from the status of other dioceses of the Greek Church. And most likely, the Greeks want this to continue. Therefore, the price for the recognition of the Tomos is determined – the dioceses of the "New Lands".
And this is not behind-the-scenes “small talks”, this is the speech of the church hierarch at the Bishops’ Council! Is such a trade appropriate at this level?
Is legalization of the schism a debt within Orthodoxy?
Metropolitan Ignatios claims that the Phanar came to Ukraine, “to solve an issue that otherwise cannot be solved. He does so because this is his ministry, this is his debt within Orthodoxy”.
Yes, the Phanar came to us, to our house and our country. However, all the beautiful words and statements of the head and hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople led to completely opposite results: the Phanar solved the problems of schismatics and created problems for the faithful of the canonical Church!
One of the main arguments of Patriarch Bartholomew in favour of his actions in Ukraine is the unification of Orthodoxy in the country and the unity of Orthodox Ukrainians. What do we have as a result? The situation that we had before the Tomos, with the split deepened and hostility greatly increased.
So, is the problem that Metropolitan Ignatios spoke about addressed?
Does the rule “one city – one bishop” apply?
“The granting of autocephaly is a prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but it does not negate the entity and presence of [Metropolitan] Onuphry and the Russian ecclesiastical presence in Ukraine. This is not affected. It does not change its status, it does not concern them, it does not lead them to schism.”
With this statement, Metropolitan Ignatios clearly says that the Phanar is implementing the Estonian scenario in Ukraine, according to which the Mother Church creates a parallel church structure, which obviously violates the canonical rule of “one city – one bishop”. And we do not even touch upon the issue of the legitimacy of the ordinances of the OCU and the fact that this structure does not have the right to be called the Church.
The problem is that the "creators and guardians of the canons", as the Patriarchate of Constantinople likes to position itself, openly violate these canons, first in Estonia, now in Ukraine. And this is despite the fact that the Phanar hierarchs have repeatedly promised not to create parallel jurisdiction in Ukraine. So, Archbishop Job (Getcha) of Telmessos alone has stated this many times. In 2016, on his visit to Ukraine, he stated the following: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not plan to create another parallel jurisdiction in Ukraine, because such a non-canonical situation will only exacerbate the problem.”
It is even more shocking that the Hellenes consider it normal to consider recognition of the OCU as a means of “punishing” the obstinate Russians.
On November 2, 2018, already in the midst of the crisis provoked by Constantinople, the same Archbishop Job said: “According to the canons of the Church, there cannot be two parallel Churches on the same territory. If there is a way that some may express themselves – that whoever does not want Ukrainian autocephaly may remain as the Russian Exarchate or it is not clear what, it is simply anti-canonical. According to the canons of the Church, on the territory of one state there should be only one Orthodox Church, and this autocephalous Orthodox Church should unite everyone.”
The objective reality and statements of the Greek bishop say that in the eyes of the Phanar and part of the hierarchy of the Greek Church, the OCU is precisely a parallel jurisdiction. And it seems that Metropolitan Ignatios is not at all embarrassed about it.
What is most important: unity with the Ecumenical Patriarchate or with Christ?
The whole essence of the decisions of the Council of the Greek Church and the position taken by the bishops like Metropolitan Ignatios is expressed in the following passage: “We all defend Article 3 of our Constitution… As the Speaker of today's Greek Parliament has rightly said, this article is not about the relationship of the State and the Church, it is about the unity of our Church with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The unity that we are not allowed to cross, we cannot in any way jeopardize because it concerns the unity of the Body of our Church, our Hierarchy itself.”
Before this phrase, Metropolitan Ignatios cites as a particularly positive example the fact that the bishops of the “New Lands” participated in the Synod of the Phanar, but if the OCU is not recognized, they will not be able to take part in it. Thus, the relations between the Phanar and Hellas will be interrupted, which, according to the bishop, cannot be allowed because every Hellene dreams of the revival of Byzantium, the symbol of which is the Phanar.
In this neo-imperial logic, the “Ukrainian problem” is just a devalued bargaining chip, which must be paid for the greatness of the Hellenic idea. The fact that it does not fully harmonize with the canons of the Church and the gospel principles does not seem to bother the Greek hierarchs too much.
* * *
Of course, not everyone thinks like Metropolitan Ignatios of Demetrias. There are sensible people in Greece who understand: the path that the Phanar’s supporters have chosen is the path of complete self-destruction.
But the bishops who are guided in their decisions by the arguments given in the speech of the Demetrias bishop, have already separated themselves from communion with tens of millions of Orthodox Russian and Ukrainian Churches. In case the schismatics of the OCU are recognized by the Church of Greece, a schism no less than the Great Schism of 1054 can shake the world Orthodoxy.
What do they have in return? The sin of schism, indelible even by martyrdom, which the Greek John Chrysostom once said? Or dreams of a revival of the Byzantine empire?
The UOJ has repeatedly written why so many Ukrainians (including those declaring themselves Christians) support the slogans “Glory to Ukraine”, “Ukraine is above all” and others, where the nation is glorified. Everything is simple: glorifying the nation, the “little Ukrainian” glorifies himself in its face, when he is proud of the nation – he is proud of himself.
Isn't that the logic of the Greek hierarchs who, thinking of the ties with the Phanar, the greatness of Hellenism and the Byzantine Empire, don’t notice how their “compromise stance” harms the Ecumenical Church and destroys Orthodoxy?
We would like to remind them that 500 years ago they already made a fatal mistake, trying to make a “minor compromise” in order to save the Byzantine Empire and agree with the “Western partners” in the person of the Pope in the Union of Florence. We remember the consequences very well – the fall of Constantinople and the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. And today, again trying to fulfill the dreams of the revival of “Oikumena”, Patriarch Bartholomew and a group of dreamer bishops rushed headlong into a new union – this time counting on the support of overseas partners.
History is cyclical, and for those who have not learned the old lessons, it offers new ones. The Church is the Body of Christ, and it is impossible to destroy it, but it is possible to fall away from It. Still, some hierarchs of Hellas have a chance to turn their eyes away from the Phanar and turn them to Christ. Will they take this chance?