Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos: The story of one transfiguration

03 December 2022 11:45
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Metropolitan Isaiah is one of the main contenders for the primatial throne. Photo: UOJ Metropolitan Isaiah is one of the main contenders for the primatial throne. Photo: UOJ

One of the contenders for the Cypriot Primate’s throne is Met Isaiah. Just recently, he called OCU “bishops” laymen, now he concelebrates with them. What can it mean?

In the previous article, we said that the election of the head of the Cypriot Orthodox Church would be crucial not only for Cyprus, but for the entire Orthodox world. The reason is the ongoing pan-Orthodox crisis caused by the Tomos for the OCU.

With this article, we will begin a series of publications that will consider in as much detail as possible the positions of those bishops who have officially registered as candidates for the post of head of the Cypriot Church.

These are Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos and Orinis, Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphu, Metropolitan Georgios of Paphos, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Kyrenia, and Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia and Ammochostos.

Today we will talk about Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos. There are three reasons why this particular bishop tops our list.

Firstly, quite recently he was one of the most principled opponents of the OCU. The intransigence of the hierarch in relation to this structure gave hope to all the Orthodox of Ukraine and the world that if he were elected, the issue of recognizing the OCU would finally enter the ecclesiological and canonical plane from the political one.

Secondly, over the past month, Vladyka Isaiah has put an end to these hopes, completely crossing out everything he would say before. For him, not only the recognition of the OCU is "not subject to revision", but also concelebration with its "hierarchs" is beyond doubt now.

Thirdly, we are sure that both the Phanar (and hence the State Department) and the Synod and the Parliament of Cyprus have staked on him.

That is why we propose to take a closer look at the personality of this bishop and once again recall his involution – from supporting the canons of the Church to their trampling.

Brief biographical note

Metropolitan Isaiah was born on December 12, 1971 in the suburbs of Nicosia. He served in the National Guard, and in 1990, he entered the Theological Seminary of the Apostle Barnabas. In the same year, he was admitted as a novice to the monastery of the Kykkos Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, where the current Metropolitan Nikephoros of Kykkos became his confessor.

In 1997, he graduated from the Moscow Theological Seminary. Interestingly, he studied there with the blessing of Patriarch Alexy of Moscow. According to him, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said that “it would be good for you to come to Russia to study here,” and blessed him. “I came out stunned, how about in Russia ?! I do not know the language, and my plans were completely different. However, a little later, our abbot Nikiforos enlightened me: 'The patriarchal blessing is providential, so get ready and go to Russia',” Metropolitan Isaiah shared his memories.

True, later, when he was accused of having excessive ties with Russia due to his non-recognition of the OCU, he preferred to remain silent about the role of Patriarch Alexy in his decision to study in Moscow. In addition, on the website of the Tamassos Metropolis, it is only said that Abbot Nikephoros blessed him to study at the Moscow theological schools.

In general, many pages in the life of Met Isaiah are connected with Russia. For example, he became the first priest to take care of the Russians imprisoned in Cyprus, as well as women who ended up in sexual slavery. Moreover, he defended his Ph.D. thesis at the MTA. Another interesting detail is that the future head of the DECR ROC Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) taught the future Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos the Church Slavonic language. Therefore, it is not surprising that in 2017, on the territory of the Tamassos Metropolitanate, the Russian philanthropist Viacheslav Zarenkov built a temple in honor of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called and All the Saints who shone in the Russian land. The cost of the project ranged from 6 to 8 million dollars, which is probably why Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), a longtime friend of Bishop Isaiah, who attended the opening of the temple, was confident in “strong relations between the two Churches of Russia and Cyprus” and wished “all the inhabitants of the island to preserve the Orthodox faith.”

However, as we know, neither strong relations nor the Orthodox faith has been preserved by the Church of Cyprus for the most part. This also applies to the Tamassos Metropolitanate.

Metropolitan Isaiah and the OCU: before the elections

Two years ago, it that Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos, along with several other bishops of the Cypriot Church, seemed to be the confessors of Orthodoxy, who firmly stand on the position of canon law, rather than political expediency or national sentiments.

In 2020, when the Synod of the Cypriot Church scandalously recognized the OCU, Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos became one of the four bishops to sign an appeal to Archbishop Chrysostomos demanding that this decision be reversed.

At that time Metropolitan Isaiah clearly said that the act of Patriarch Bartholomew on granting “autocephaly” to schismatic Ukrainian structures “is an arbitrary, anti-canonical and anti-church action”, that the decision to grant the Tomos to the OCU was made “contrary to the sacred canons and the existing ecclesiastical order”, and that in order to resolve the emerging a schism in World Orthodoxy, caused by this act of recognition, “it is necessary to urgently convene a meeting of Primates.”

Vladyka refused to recognize the OCU and its "primate" Epifaniy, grounding his decision "on the teaching, faith, ecclesiastical and canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church." According to him, “we are not talking about disagreements over simple administrative or minor issues, but in essence – about Orthodox ecclesiology and our Church dogmas about the Holy Sacraments and apostolic succession, issues related to our salvation.”

Metropolitan Isaiah constantly emphasized that Dumenko did not have a canonical ordination, because "he comes from schismatic groups of the Ukrainian Church."

He stated that there is no apostolic succession in the leadership of the OCU, which means that he cannot "agree with the validity of ordination and the sacraments performed by this leadership."

The Primate of the Ukrainian Church is His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv. Therefore, following the canonical requirement “one city, one bishop”, I refuse to recognize another “primate”, especially when he actually has neither canonical nor actual ordination.

Isaiah, Metropolitan of Tamassos

Given the aforesaid, Metropolitan Isaiah refused to concelebrate with Archbishop Chrysostomos, since, according to the former, he “cannot concelebrate with anyone who commemorates schismatic Epifaniy, since this would mean that he recognizes someone who was not ordained properly” , and "this is not a manifestation of whim or selfishness, but an unwillingness to clash with one's hierarchical conscience." At the same time, he drew attention to the fact that the metropolitans of the Cypriot Church do not commemorate Dumenko during the Divine Liturgy, because the decision of the Synod "concerned only Archbishop Chrysostomos, but not us."

Metropolitan Isaiah and the OCU: Election Time

When it became known that Archbishop Chrysostomos was terminally ill, Metropolitan Isaiah’s rhetoric regarding the OCU began to change.

The fact is that Vladyka decided to run for the post of Primate of the Cypriot Church. But Isaiah is one of the youngest Cypriot metropolitans and does not have sufficient support in the Synod.

Therefore, the hierarch decided to enlist the support of Patriarch Bartholomew. In the summer of 2022, he visited the Phanar and his attitude towards the OCU was essentially modified.

He began to say that he protested not so much against the OCU, but rather against the procedure by which the decision was made to recognize Dumenko. In addition, the metropolitan said that every hierarch of the Cypriot Church is obliged to unconditionally accept the decisions of the Synod, and the Church must change, rather than "lock itself in narrow canonical rules." Regarding the “consecrations” of the OCU, Metropolitan Isaiah in August 2022 said, “His Eminence, the Archsecretary of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Throne, Gregorios Fragakis, prepared a brilliant scientific study on the canonical origin of the ordinations of Ukrainian bishops, who were recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”

According to Vladyka, “this study will clarify and shed much light on this thorny issue, which was the main reason for our reservations, as well as the reservations of many other bishops in Orthodoxy.”

Already in November, after the second (and then the third) visit to the Phanar, Bishop Isaiah declared that "his position on this conflict was determined the day after Russia's invasion of Ukraine." Let us omit the obvious fact that wars cannot make the “consecrations” of the laity canonical. Question: if the position of Metropolitan Isaiah “was determined the next day,” then why did he keep silent about this position for so many months? Why didn't he voice this in his huge August interview with Philenews.com? Perhaps because in August it was not yet known that the days of Archbishop Chrysostomos were numbered.

On November 21, Met Isaiah makes another statement, according to which “there can be no return” of the Phanar’s decisions on the OCU, and already on November 30, he goes even further and “concelebrates” together with the “bishop” of the OCU Agapit Humeniuk. Interestingly, after a joint liturgy with a representative of the OCU, answering a journalist’s question whether this “concelebration” means support for the OCU, Metropolitan Isaiah said, “It means that I support the Phanar.” At the same time, he noted that everything that happened is only “the completion of that developments”, which dates back to the 90s, when he first visited the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Metropolitan Isaiah and elections

So what do we have at the moment? Does Metropolitan Isaiah have a chance to lead the Cypriot Church? it may well be.

We remember that the people of Cyprus elect only three of the six candidates presented, and the Synod elects the Primate from among them.

At the moment, Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol enjoys the greatest support among the people of Cyprus. And if the matter was limited only to the vote of believers, then he would have won 44% of the votes and become Primate by a huge margin.

He is almost on a par with Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos and Metropolitan Georgios of Paphos, the current secretary of the Holy Synod of Cyprus. A little further – Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphu and Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia. There is still time before the elections, which means that any of the last two metropolitans can join the fight for second and third places. Therefore, it is clear that with only about 500,000 Orthodox Christians living in Cyprus, every vote counts.

In Cyprus, all Orthodox are equal, but Cypriots are more equal

According to the Statute of the Cypriot Church, any Orthodox Christian living in Cyprus can vote, regardless of which country he is a citizen of. To do this, it is enough to register at the polling station.

However, on November 28, 2022, the Synod of the Church of Cyprus makes an unexpected decision to ban foreigners from participating in elections. The formal reason is the limited time for preparing the elections, but the true reason is not to allow those, who will definitely elect an OCU-opposing candidate, to vote. After all, now about 20,000 Russians live in Cyprus and about the same number of immigrants from Ukraine. It is clear that almost none of them will vote for those who commemorate Dumenko. This means that either Metropolitan Isaiah or Metropolitan Georgios may not get a top-three ranking.

In order to preempt such scenarios, a decision was made to prohibit foreigners from electing the Primate of the Cypriot Church. In order to avoid suspicion that this decision was very profitable for him, Metropolitan Isaiah left Cyprus for Phanar and did not vote.

Another reason for the visit of the hierarch to the Phanar is to show his loyalty through concelebration with the “bishop” of the OCU and enlist the support of Patriarch Bartholomew in the eyes of the Cypriot synodals. One word of the head of the Phanar is enough for many in the Synod to vote for him. This is the backstory of this betrayal. Its price is not war, not dogma and the canons of the Church, but a banal lust for power. It's a pity, because power has killed many.

Now an unprecedented election campaign has been launched in Cyprus. Candidates for the post of Primate of the Church of Cyprus and their support groups, in an effort to get the votes of different groups of the population and increase their chances of getting into the top three, in the truest sense of the word, recruit people. This is done both in churches, in social networks, and through personal contacts. All this in order to try to convince the Orthodox to come to the ballot box and support their chosen one for the primate throne. So far, one thing can be said for sure: Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol is the undisputed leader. As for the rest, everything is very vague. For example, Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphu, who emphasizes his non-recognition of the OCU, lags behind the top three by only 4%, and even less because of the betrayal of Metropolitan Isaiah.

Nevertheless, winning the first round does not mean winning the elections. Because there is still a Synod. And we don't know who the synodals will vote for despite the fact that Metropolitan Isaiah already acts as the Primate of the Cypriot Church, receiving ambassadors of various states in his residence, meeting with high-ranking officials and demonstrating his confidence in victory. However, there is Christ over him and over the Synod, and, most importantly, over the Church. Namely Christ will decide who will become the Primate of the Church of Cyprus. We can only pray that this person becomes a blessing of God for World Orthodoxy, rather than a punishment for its sins.

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