8 theses in the decisions of the Holy Synod of UOC

Session of the Holy Synod of UOC. Photo: Information and Education Department of UOC

The UOC Synod adopted a Statement on developments in the inter-Orthodox sphere. What is the UOC position on the crisis that hit the entire Orthodoxy by Phanar’s “grace”?

On December 6, 2019, the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church adopted a Statement on the latest developments in the field of inter-Orthodox relations. What are the main provisions of the Statement and what is the position of the UOC in the crisis situation having affected the whole Orthodox Church through the “grace” of Patriarch Bartholomew?

Before commenting on the paragraphs of the text of the Statement, we offer a few general comments.

The Holy Synod adopted the Statement in conditions when the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was recognized by the Greek and Alexandrian Local Orthodox Churches. Moreover, there was a real threat it would not be confined to these Churches and the virus of recognition of schismatics would continue to spawn across the Orthodox world.

Meetings of American, and now Greek diplomats with the leadership of the Bulgarian, Georgian, Romanian and other Local Churches clearly indicate a risk group. After the recognition of the OCU by Greece and Alexandria, only the Polish Orthodox Church declared the fundamental impossibility of recognizing schismatics from the OCU. The statements of the Serbian Church are also quite categorical. Everyone else speaks in more or less diplomatic terms. Anyway, even after Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria first declared unconditional support for the UOC and Metropolitan Onuphry personally but then betrayed them and went back on his own words, there is nothing to be surprised at.

So, in situation at hand, the UOC could take a position either firm or more diplomatic using the notorious akribeia or oikonomia. The latter involves a softer, diplomatic stance, favors negotiations and a trade-off. The former means a firm stance; as they say, it burns bridges and leaves no room for negotiations until Phanar (in this case) admits its wrongness and corrects everything it has committed.

Therefore, the Holy Synod of the UOC in this case took an absolutely correct firm position. In fact, what kind of oikonomia can be in the question of who the head of the Church is: Christ or the Patriarch of Constantinople? How can one say in relation to the false hierarchs from the OCU that they are true bishops for diplomatic reasons? The grace of the priesthood is either there or not.

In the Synod’s Statement, everything is clear cut: Phanar’s claim to primacy is a fundamental violation of the creed, schismatics from the OCU are graceless, concelebration with them is blasphemy. But now, first things first.

Thesis 1: Local Churches have been split

“1. We are compelled to declare that due to the anti-canonical actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine and also in connection with the actions perpetrated by the Primates of the Greek and Alexandrian Orthodox Churches, namely by their entering into Eucharistic communion with the schismatic “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, the situation in Orthodox Christianity has grown worse not only at the administrative but also at the spiritual level, i.e. on the level of ecclesial communion in the Holy Sacraments.”

The root cause of this division is the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to create an autocephalous church in Ukraine from two breakaway religious organizations in Ukraine. But the separation itself (the Synod has not yet used the word "schism") took place with the other two Local Churches of Greece and Alexandria having recognized these anti-canonical actions. Moreover, the Synod also outlined the level of this division – holy communion in the Sacraments, not just administrative disagreements.

In the Synod’s Statement, everything is clear-cut: Phanar’s claim to primacy is a fundamental violation of the creed, schismatics from the OCU are graceless, concelebration with them is blasphemy.

Тhesis 2. Phanar offers an unprecedented dogma of its primacy in the Church, while its concelebration with the dissenters is blasphemy and sacrilege of the Holy Eucharist

“2. It has become apparent that this crisis is not only a problem of bilateral relations between the Constantinopolitan and the Moscow Patriarchates, but it concerns the whole of World Orthodoxy, all the Local Orthodox Churches since it is harming the very foundations of the life and missiology of Christ’s Church. This problem is not administrative but ecclesiological.

The new conception of the Patriarch of Constantinople as “the first without equals” (“Primus sine paribus”) has reared its head in world Orthodoxy, and is something which the Orthodox Church has never known previously, and which in actuality is a clear violation of the principle of the Church’s catholicity and a consequence of the misunderstanding of the nature of the Church in general and of the role of the individual Local Churches, in particular. In addition, the Patriarchate of Constantinople began to concelebrate services with persons who were not canonically ordained, which in itself is blasphemy and sacrilege with regard to the Eucharist.”

Here, two points are blamed on the Patriarchate of Constantinople: its claim to supremacy in the Church and its co-service with the persons who do not have holy orders. The first explicitly looks like heresy; although the Holy Synod does not use this word either (there is still a small fraction of oikonomia). The concept of “the first without equals” was developed in 2014 by Metropolitan Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) and is, by default, an official standpoint of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Metropolitan Elpidophoros himself has been noticeably promoted ever since; this year he was appointed to lead the most important and most profitable structure within the Patriarchate of Constantinople – the American Archdiocese. And in the future it is he who is marked as a successor to Patriarch Bartholomew. This concept of the “first without equals” is a new teaching that openly contradicts the dogma of the Church: “I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. The Synod of the UOC says in this regard that the concept of "the first without equals" "is a violation of the principle of conciliarity of the Church."

Thesis 3: Cessation of Eucharistic Communion with those who have recognized schismatics is a way of self-preservation of the Church

“3. In view of this, the cessation of Eucharistic communion by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and with the Churches and hierarchs who have recognised the schismatics is not an abuse of the Eucharist, or blackmail of the Eucharist, as some people have alleged, but on the contrary it is a defense of the Eucharist and a safeguard of the canonical and spiritual purity as well as the integrity of the Church. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the words of the Holy Apostle Paul, ”also loved the Church, and gave himself for it… That he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians. 5: 25-27).”

This passage is a response to criticism of the position of both the Ukrainian and the Russian Churches, which broke off the holy communion with both the Patriarchate of Constantinople and other Churches that recognized the Ukrainian schismatics. Such critics claim that Eucharistic communion cannot be terminated because of what Phanar did, that this is too radical a measure. And the measure is double-edged.

But the Synod of the UOC declared that this measure is almost the only possible one in order to protect the Church and the Eucharist from sacrilege, to preserve its purity. If a wolf has put on the sheep’s skin, this does not make him a sheep. This only makes the wolf even more dangerous. If someone (Phanar, in this case) called the schism as a Church, this does not turn it into the Church but makes it more dangerous, since in the eyes of many people the schism takes on separate features of the authentic Church. But in essence it is a simulacrum. The following thesis of the Statement concerns the aforesaid.

Thesis 4: Phanar has created an ecclesiastic simulacrum – the organization aiming to replace the authentic Church of Christ

Of course, the word “simulacrum” is absent in the text of the Statement. In fact, the fourth paragraph of the document says that recognizing the schism and allowing false hierarchs to the Holy Eucharist, Phanar and its supporters are creating a new church, which is to replace the Church created by our Lord Jesus Christ.

“4. For these reasons, it is false and manipulative to accuse the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of allegedly moving toward self-isolation, specifically by its suspension of Eucharistic communion with those who have themselves entered into communion with unrepentant schismatics. In fact, we uphold the purity of the canonical traditions of the Church and protect the Church from blasphemy.

Otherwise, if persons who have no canonical ordination are admitted to the priesthood, and if the schism is recognised by the Church, but the true Church of Christ is ignored or falsely called the schism, then there is a danger that the true Church may be substituted. Moreover, such anti-Church actions blur the line between the Church and the schism.  As a result, a so-called new “Church” structure is created, which is founded by men, in place of the true Church that was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ who “hath purchased [it] with His own blood“ (see Acts 20:28).”

The Holy Synod in these short words very accurately described what was happening. Prior to all these unlawful decisions of Phanar, the Church of Christ, the UOC existed in Ukraine, and there were two schismatic organizations: the UOC-KP and the UAOC. All Local Churches used to recognize this state of affairs.

For some reason, out of the blue, by the decision of the Phanariots, the schismatics began to be called the church, while the UOC seemed to cease to exist. This amazing blindness is very surprising in the decisions on the recognition of the OCU by the Greek and Alexandrian Churches. Their statements say nothing, absolutely nothing about the UOC, as if 12 thousand communities, embracing millions of believers, suddenly vanished into the thin air.

However, one can return to the Church from schism, as well as from any other sin, in no other way than through repentance. If there is no repentance (and there is none), then the split remains a split, no matter how it is called. And the Church, i.e. the UOC, continues to be the Church.

Yet, Patriarch Bartholomew with his associates is trying to fake it – actually, to deceive people, to pass off the lie as the Truth. And on behalf of the Synod, the UOC declares that it is not going to participate in this lie and this substitution of the Church. It is not going to participate in the simulacrum. And therefore, it cannot have Eucharistic communion with the simulacrum. One who has such communion with schismatics takes the side of the split himself. This is expanded on in the next paragraph of the Statement.

If there is no repentance (and there is none), then the split remains a split, no matter how it is called. And the Church, i.e. the UOC, continues to be the Church. Yet, Patriarch Bartholomew with his associates is trying to fake it – actually, to deceive people, to pass off the lie as the Truth.

Thesis 5: He who has communion with dissenters takes part in their sin

“5. One of the basic principles of Canon law of the Orthodox Church is such that whoever enters into Eucharistic communion with the excommunicated will be excluded from communion with the Church himself.  In this regard, the  entering into communion  by certain Local Churches with persons who have fallen into schism in other Local Churches and who have not truly repented and who are not canonically ordained, automatically raises the question of whether their continued  Eucharistic  communion with these schismatics also makes them  complicit in this sin, and which, in fact, also causes them to be in violation of the above-mentioned canonical principle?”

In fact, this is almost the only diplomatic fragment in the decisions of the Synod, where the hierarchs of the UOC do not directly refer to the Church of Constantinople, Greece and Alexandria as schismatics. Conventional logic inexorably prompts: who enters into communion with schismatics – he himself becomes a schismatic.

Thesis 6: The only way out of the crisis – a Pan-Orthodox Council or a Synaxis

“6. We believe that the only way out of this crisis is to have a Pan-Orthodox Council discussion and find a solution to the whole range of these problematic issues. Recognising all the inherent difficulties involved in convening such a Pan-Orthodox meeting, we still have yet to see another way out of the crisis. Therefore, we welcome the initiative of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of the Holy City of Jerusalem and of All Palestine to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. During the many difficult times in the history of our Church, there was already such a case where the Patriarchate of Jerusalem provided assistance. This was in 1620 A.D. when His Holiness Patriarch Theophanes III of Jerusalem restored the Orthodox hierarchy in Kyiv in order to replace those who had joined the Union under the pressure of the then Polish-Lithuanian authorities. We applaud, thank, and look forward to similar calls for a Pan-Orthodox meeting from the Primates and hierarchs of the other Local Orthodox Churches which, in fact, has already started to happen more and more frequently of late.”

Since the separation in the Church has already taken place, as stated in the previous paragraphs of the Statement, the problem can no longer be solved through bilateral negotiations between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow. Naturally, Phanar is unwilling to recognize its actions as non-canonical and cancel them now and it hardly wants to do it in the future. There is only one way out – to solve the problem in a conciliar manner.

Basically, the history of the Church does not know another way to solve such problems. All heresies the Church has ever had were condemned and rejected only by its conciliar mind. One of the forms of such a collective solution to the problem is a pan-Orthodox synaxis, which Jerusalem Patriarch Theophilos III proposes to hold the in Jordan. Whether it takes place or not is unknown. It is also not known which Local Churches will participate in it. After all, many have adopted a wait-and-see approach. But, apparently, the moment of truth is drawing near when it will not be possible to remain silent or get off with streamlined diplomatic formulations. It will be necessary to decide whether or not to recognize the supremacy of Phanar and all those iniquities it has managed to commit.

Thesis 7: The position of many Local Churches is determined by secular authorities

This is not explicitly stated in the text of the Statement but we all know very well the officials of which state have lobbied for the creation of the OCU and are conducting an unashamed campaign to have Local Churches recognize this organization. The Holy Synod speaks of interference of political and geopolitical factors in church affairs. These factors make Orthodox hierarchs neglect both the canons of the Church and their own conscience.

“7. It is to be noted that geopolitical and political factors have, unfortunately, started to blatantly interfere in the internal life of World Orthodoxy in unprecedented fashion. As a result, individual Local Churches have been making Church decisions under the influence of these factors, contrary to Church canons and centuries-old traditions of the Church. We understand that each Local Orthodox Church does its ministry within a particular state, and sometimes several or many states. Often, one or another Orthodox nation is historically very closely connected to both its own state and its Local Church.

However, it is our deep conviction, that every Local Church in its service to God must be above national, state, or political boundaries and interests, and not be subjected to external pressure, remembering that the Kingdom of God we preach of is not of this world.  (see John 18:36). If each Local Orthodox Church associates itself solely with the interests of its own state, then world Orthodoxy cannot be united, since it is well known that states engage in conflict or in wars with each other, but the Church must always preserve unity and reconcile people, whilst not becoming a party or a means of confrontation.

We express our hope that the Holy Orthodox Church, with the help of God, will find the strength to overcome these challenges and maintain its unity; rising above national borders and interests, because in Christ there is neither “Greek nor Jew…, Barbarian, Scythian,… but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).”

In this paragraph, another problem is indicated, which consists in the fact that the centuries-old practice of the Orthodox faith by any people can lead to the identification of ethnic and religious factors in the minds of people. The consequence of this may be a situation when a Local Church makes decisions based not on religious, but on national or state interests. Classical examples of this situation are two unions, Lyon and Florentine, adopted respectively in 1274 and 1439. Then the Patriarchate of Constantinople, together with its associates, decided to sacrifice Orthodoxy in order to save the Byzantine Empire from destruction.

The Church of Christ must be above national and state interests. She is not of this world. It should fulfill the will of God but not the will of those in power. Today, unfortunately, the Patriarchate of Constantinople demonstrates the opposite.

Thesis 8: We are in the true Church and God is with us!

“8. We appeal to the archpastors, pastors, monks, and laity of our beloved Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Dear Vladykas, Fathers, brothers and sisters! It is not without Divine Providence that we here in Ukraine and within our Church, and within the bounds of World Orthodoxy, that the boundary line between the true Church and the schism lies today. In this situation, we must preserve the purity of the canonical system and the teaching of the Church. Opponents are trying to scare us with the prospect of self-isolation. But as long as we continue to live in true faith, there cannot be any self-isolation. The blessed memory of His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine reminds us that “there can be no self-isolation with Christ”.

In fact, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church today, through its various trials and tribulations, is upholding the unity of the whole Orthodox world. Don’t be afraid! You are part of the one true Church! Love the Church, keep the Church and yourself in it, because through it the Lord saves us. And leave the rest to the Will of God. Remember, it is not Man who directs the Church, but our heavenly Father Himself. Let us pray that the Lord through his Holy Spirit will correct all human error, purify us from all evil things, and save our souls!”

In fact, it is not difficult to see on whose side the truth is.

Phanar’s decisions in Ukraine are so lawless, the intervention of US State Department officials is so evident, the concept of Constantinople papism is so anti-Orthodox that there is no doubt about where the true Church is now.

If we compare our current situation with what was in the Russian Church from the death of the holy Patriarch-Confessor Tikhon in 1925 to the election of Patriarch Sergius at the Local Council in 1943, we can see that it was very difficult to determine exactly where the Church. Before being elected Patriarch, Metropolitan Sergius held a very strange post – he was deputy patriarchal locum tenens.

At the same time, over the years, some hierarchs have rightly declared themselves the true leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church. There were various catacomb communities led by bishops; there was the Church Abroad. This was the picture, not to mention the “Renovationists” and quite avowed sectarians. All these organizations, movements and rumors declared themselves the bearers of truth and gave quite weighty arguments in support of their position. Many believers were sincerely mistaken in all this mayhem.

Everything is much simpler now. There is a single UOC, which has always been the Church of Christ. Despite the unprecedented pressure on the episcopate by the power structures under Petro Poroshenko, only two out of a hundred bishops joined the OCU. Despite illegal seizures of churches, illegal re-registration, violence and psychological harassment, about half a percent of all UOC communities joined the OCU. On the other hand, schismatics also remained schismatics. One must be very near to seriously believe that without repentance, just with a stroke of the pen of Patriarch Bartholomew, they suddenly turned into the true Church. It doesn’t work like that.

In addition, the OCU itself clearly positions itself as an element of Ukrainian statehood, while the UOC constantly says it is the Church is Christ. Therefore, it is not difficult to make up one’s mind: for whom “Ukraine is above all”, they opt for the OCU; those who want to save their souls for eternal life, they become faithful children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

We do not know how the situation will develop further. We do not know what other tests we are destined to endure. But we know that we are in the Church of Christ. And the only thing we need to worry about is to remain faithful to Her, no matter what. The Holy Synod is calling us to this. God calls us to this.

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Rev. 2: 10).

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