On schismatics and confessors: ROC replies to recognition of OCU by Greeks

Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Ieronymos. Photo: UOJ

Analysis of the Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Five days after the Bishops’ Council of the Greek Orthodox Church (GOC) recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) adopted a statement on this issue.

On the eve of the meeting of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, everyone made conjectures whether the Russian Church would break or not the Eucharistic communion with the Church of Greece, as it did with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Most experts expected a tough reaction and breakup. But this did not follow. Though based on the rationale of the Synodal statement, it could not follow. Before explaining why, we will repeat the main theses of the statement:

1. The Russian Orthodox Church did not break the Eucharistic communion with the Greek Church

If this had happened, it would have turned out that the Russian Orthodox Church broke off communion also with the Greek hierarchs who object to the recognition of the OCU, consider the representatives of this organization to be graceless schismatics and point out the illegality of both the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the decision of the Bishops’ Council of the GOC. Some of these hierarchs resolutely oppose to the recognition of schismatics. The rationale of the ROC Synod’s Statement is to break off communion only with those Greek hierarchs who supported the decision to recognize the OCU.

2. The Russian Orthodox Church broke the Eucharistic communion with only those Greek bishops who support the recognition of the OCU

The relevant place in the Synod’s statement reads as follows: “In light of the aforesaid, we cease prayerful and Eucharistic communion with those hierarchs of the Greek Church who have entered or will enter into such communion with representatives of the Ukrainian non-canonical schismatic communities. We also do not bless pilgrimage trips to the dioceses, governed by the designated bishops."

In general, such a sanction measure as breaking the Eucharistic communion is somewhat incomprehensible. What does this step mean in sacred terms? What implications does it lurk for the parties? How and why should it be applied and on what basis cancelled?

It is clear that inter-church relations do not appear as a body of international law with a horde of signed treaties, clearly articulated concepts and definitions. But still let's try to imagine what termination in the Eucharistic communion entails in practical terms.

The statement said only that Russian pilgrims are not blessed to attend dioceses led by the hierarchs who have recognized the OCU.

But the Russian Orthodox Church also broke the Eucharistic communion with Constantinople, upon that temples were opened in Istanbul and other Turkish cities to provide spiritual guidance to Orthodox believers from Russia and other countries of the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church without notifying Phanar on the matter.

Will such temples be opened in the Greek dioceses that recognized the OCU? And if, say, any celebrations take place in the Bulgarian Church and the Greek hierarchs who recognize the OCU participate in the service, will the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church be able to take part in the service or not?

All these are questions for which there is no answer so far.

But this is not the main problem. Today it is impossible to determine which of the hierarchs of the GOC recognize the OCU and which do not. Because when solving such a global issue as recognition of the OCU (global because it threatens to split the whole Ecumenical Orthodoxy), no vote was taken at the Bishops' Council of the GOC – either secret or roll-call.

The text of the statement says: “The communiqué of the extraordinary Council of Hierarchs informed of the decision taken following the discussion of this report. However, it remains unclear who exactly took this decision and in what form. A whole number of authoritative hierarchs drew the Council’s attention to the critical state of the world Orthodoxy, to the need for extreme caution and thorough examination of the problem – without any haste and external pressure. Several metropolitans, including those not present at the Council, asked the Council in writing to postpone a decision. Decisions of the Council of Hierarchs in the Greek Church are taken by a vote of all participants. However, either on the issue of recognition of the Ukrainian uncanonical communities, or on the issue of approval of the decisions of the Permanent Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church on Ukraine, the voting of the episcopate did not take place. For instance, Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira made the following statement: ‘As it is known, decisions in our Church are taken by a vote: either by raising a hand, or by an open or secret vote, or by questioning all the participants in the assembly. Perhaps, enough votes would be cast in favor of autocephaly, but there would also be many of those taking the opposite point of view, as well as those who by their silence would join the latter’.”

Due to the fact that "No official document signed by the Greek Archpastors which can be regarded as an expression of the common conciliar decision of the Local Church is publicly available" (from the Statement by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church), the Russian Orthodox Church does not believe that the Church of Greece had recognized the OCU.

3. The Russian Orthodox Church does not consider the decision of the Council of Bishops to be full recognition of the OCU

These are not just naive hopes that it’s not too late and one can play it back. Indeed, there is no explicit recognition of the OCU in the communiqué of the Bishops’ Council of the GOC.

“Moreover, spread rather quickly was the news alleging that the Greek Orthodox Church had recognized the Ukrainian autocephaly, which does not conform either to the text of the communiqué or to the position of many participants in the Council. Serious concerns arise that the conciliar method of decision-making, sanctified by the words of the holy apostles – 'good to the Holy Spirit and to us' (Act 15:28) – and by the thousand-year history of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in this case has been violated" (from the Statement of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church).

The manner in which the Bishops' Council of the Church of Greece was held and how the decision on the OCU was made at it raises many questions.

  • Why was there no vote?
  • Why were the Greek hierarchs not given the opportunity to study the conclusions of the two Synodal Committees, which were assigned to study the “Ukrainian issue”?
  • Why have they still not published the original document adopted at the Council with the signatures of the hierarchs?
  • Why didn’t they pay attention to the calls of many respected hierarchs to postpone the resolution of the issue?

Whereas the Russian Orthodox Church describes all these absurdities very diplomatically, the former representative of the GOC in the European Union, Protopresbyter Nikolaos Savvopoulos, in an interview with the Greek edition Romfea, assessed the outcome of the Council more bluntly – as a trick and a synodal coup: “I don’t know if you understand the trick. The hierarchs were invited to make a decision on the Orthodoxy-splitting issue, and they could not study the conclusions of the competent committees which they themselves entrusted the work of making proposals. Indeed, what a "bright" church mind came up with something of the kind. <...> Even the very last Greek who had been keeping track of the Ukrainian issue understood that this was a synodal overturn. There is no doubt that the Church will pay dearly for this great ‘historical decision’ with the destruction of its unity.”

Today it is impossible to determine which of the hierarchs of the GOC recognize the OCU and which do not. Because when solving such a global issue as recognition of the OCU, no vote was taken at the Bishops' Council of the GOC – either secret or roll-call.

Indeed, when one reads the testimonies of the participants in the Greek Council, it doesn’t fail to surprise how the Greeks make something weird out of the Council of Hierarchs and try to outwit everyone. But they are certain to eventually outwit themselves.

Actually, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church faced a very difficult task – to respond to nothing. No voting, no clear decision, no official text. Because of this, at the very beginning of the statement, the Synod referred as a source of information not to official documents but to the media: “The members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church have acquainted themselves with the documents published in the media of the extraordinary Council of Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church ...”

Therefore, the question of who among the Greek hierarchs, including Archbishop Ieronymos, recognizes and who does not recognize the OCU will be determined by their specific actions: “In the event that the Ukrainian schism is actually recognized by the Greek Orthodox Church or its Primate – in the form of con-celebration, liturgical commemoration of the leader of the schism or by sending official letters to him – it will be a sad indication of exacerbation of the division in the family of the Local Orthodox Churches." This implies:

4. The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church will consider con-celebration with representatives of the OCU, their commemoration at the service, or sending them official letters as the recognition of the OCU

Today, none of this is the case, but all the circumstances, statements and interviews of the Greek hierarchs say that this will happen soon. And this will mean deepening the schism in Orthodoxy created by Patriarch Bartholomew.

The Statement of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church also contains a provision that both the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew and the decision of the Council of Greece are backed by certain geopolitical forces acting in their own interests and using these Local Churches as an instrument of geopolitical struggle: “The full responsibility for this division will lie, first and foremost, with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and with those external political forces, in whose interests the Ukrainian schism was ‘legalized’. <...>  It is regrettable that in such a way the historical merits of the Greek people in spreading the Orthodoxy are being frittered away in exchange for momentary political benefits and support for the geopolitical interests alien to the Church.”

There is no need explaining what kind of geopolitical forces are involved. From the latest news: “On the eve of the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to the Athos, the US Consul General went there.” It means the Patriarch of Constantinople cannot even go to Mount Athos without American diplomats making proper advance arrangements there.

The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church faced a very difficult task – to respond to nothing. There was no voting, no clear decision, no official text.

But despite the fact that the Church of Greece yielded to the wishes of Phanar and there will be concelebrations with representatives of the schismatic OCU or their liturgical commemoration, the Russian Orthodox Church expresses the hope that all this will not be able to create an irresistible chasm between the Greek and Russian Churches and also between our peoples:

“Yet, these speculations in national sentiments will be a poor success. They will fail to undermine the unity of our faith bought at the cost of blood of the new martyrs and confessors of our Churches. They will not shatter the unity of our ascetic tradition built up by numerous venerable fathers and zealots. They will not destroy the centuries-old friendship between the Greek and Slavic peoples bought at the cost of blood of the Russian soldiers and strengthened in the joint fight for the freedom of the brotherly Greek people.

Treasuring prayerful communion with our brothers in the Greek Orthodox Church, we will preserve with it the living prayerful, canonical and Eucharistic ties – through all those archpastors and pastors who have already spoken or will speak in future against the recognition of the Ukrainian schism, who will not stain their name by con-celebrating with the schismatic false hierarchs, but will show an example of Christian fortitude and firmness in defending the truth of Christ.”

Hence the most important thesis of the Statement is as follows:

5. Confessors, martyrs, and venerable fathers are the foundation for us to remain One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

Even if someone falls away from Her – in Ukraine, Greece, Turkey or elsewhere...

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Poll

What will happen if the Church of Greece recognizes the OCU?
it will put itself out of Orthodoxy
51%
it will give rise to global recognition of the OCU by Local Churches
15%
nothing will happen, the Greeks will be the first and the last to recognize the OCU
34%
Total votes: 226

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