Synod of the Cypriot Church: Convene impossible to postpone

The Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus must express its position on the commemoration of Epiphany Dumenko by the Primate. Photo: UOJ

On November 23, 2020, a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Cyprus Church will take place. What might its decisions be, and what will they mean for the Church?

On November 11, 2020, a number of Greek media outlets, citing Cypriot sources, reported that the Primate of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos, was ready to convene a meeting of the Holy Synod. In addition to current issues, the main topic will be the problem that arose in the Church of Cyprus due to the commemoration of Epiphany Dumenko by Archbishop Chrysostomos. Later, on the air of the Cypriot TV channel RIK, the possible date of the proposed Synod was announced – November 23, 2020.

The need to convene the Synod of the Church of Cyprus has long been ripe. Let us recall that immediately after the granting of the Tomos, Archbishop Chrysostomos tried to somehow resolve the conflict that arose because of this at the pan-Orthodox level. Moreover, he directly stated that the Cypriot Church was ready to become an intermediary between the Phanar and the Russian Orthodox Church.

In February 2019, the Cypriots decided that they would take a neutral stance on the controversial issue of "autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church". And although after that, Archbishop Chrysostom allowed himself statements that could be interpreted in favour of the OCU, this (albeit shaky) neutrality was observed.

This situation continued until October of this year when during the liturgy, the Primate of the Church of Cyprus mentioned the name of Epiphany Dumenko among the names of the heads of other Local Churches. This fact caused strong rejection from several metropolitans of Cyprus, who saw in it a violation of the canons and the synodal system of the Church. Note that opponents of the unilateral decision of Archbishop Chrysostomos are one of the most authoritative hierarchs of the Church of Cyprus.

Later, four of them wrote a letter in which they expressed their views on Archbishop Chrysostomos's disregard for synodal decisions, and on the attitude towards the OCU in general and Dumenko in particular. Then, for the first time, the idea was expressed in the letter that the problem could be solved only by convening the Holy Synod. The reaction to this proposal of the Primate of the Church of Cyprus turned out to be interesting. In an interview with reporters, he said that he had not received an official letter from those who disagree: “No. Here there is the Secretariat of the Holy Synod and whoever wants can send a letter." In other words, he demanded to follow the formal procedure, thus violating the synodal decision!

However, it seems that the Primate of the Church of Cyprus will still not be able to avoid the Synod, since the situation in Cyprus is now critical.

Theologians of Cyprus: Onuphry is the Metropolitan of Kyiv, Dumenko is a schismatic

On November 10, 2020, two organizations of Cypriot lay theologians (and there are only two of them in Cyprus) sharply condemned the commemoration of Dumenko by Archbishop Chrysostomos and demanded the convening of a Pan-Orthodox Council for a broad discussion of the “Ukrainian issue”. According to the theologians, the conflict that arose in connection with the granting of the Tomos for the OCU should be looked at more broadly than just interference in someone else's jurisdiction – this is a conflict of understanding the "primacy of honour". In addition (and it should be emphasized here), the Cypriot theologians believe that it is wrong to bring the “Ukrainian problem” before the Synods of Local Churches since it requires pan-Orthodox discussion.

The Cypriot theologians believe that it is wrong to bring the “Ukrainian problem” before the Synods of Local Churches since it requires pan-Orthodox discussion.

The reason for this approach may be in the words of the theologian-lawyer Theodoros Kyriakou, who said that Patriarch Bartholomew was subjected to "pressure from another country", and the "Ukrainian issue" is "part of geopolitical plans". This means that the same pressure can be exerted on the Primates of other Churches (remember the words of the deputy head of the ROC DECR, Archbishop Leonid, that the Greek Foreign Ministry put pressure on Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, and from there "the legs of the State Department grow"). The pressure was also exerted on the Synods of other Churches. At the same time, the Pan-Orthodox Council with an open discussion of this issue, if not completely excludes pressure from external forces, reduces it to a minimum. The need to convene it is especially relevant given the increased interest in the promotion of the OCU on the part of the American Department of State.

In addition, the statement by the Cypriot theologians contains several more extremely important details.

First, they clearly pointed out to Archbishop Chrysostomos that every Christian, and especially a bishop, must observe the canons of the Church. Moreover, the statement emphasizes that "the canons are the Constitution of the Church and were determined by the Holy Spirit, Local and Ecumenical Councils" and those who do not recognize these them "should be accountable to the Pan-Orthodox Council".

Secondly, the theologians reminded both Archbishop Chrysostomos and Patriarch Bartholomew that His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry did not commit any canonical crimes and had always been recognized as the Metropolitan of Kyiv. Therefore, the recognition of Dumenko as "Metropolitan of Kyiv", again, violates the canons of the Church, according to which there cannot be two bishops in one city. By the way, exactly the same position on this issue is taken by Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, for whom Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv is "πατέρας" (father), and any other hierarch who calls himself "Metropolitan of Kyiv" is "το τέρας" (beast or monster).

For Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv is "πατέρας" (father) and any other hierarch who calls himself "Metropolitan of Kyiv" is "το τέρας" (beast or monster).

Thirdly, they suggested that the Tomos for the OCU was dictated by personal ambitions and resentment due to the absence of the Russian Church at the Cretan Council in 2016, and not by the benefit for the Church or the interests of Orthodoxy.

And, fourthly, the theologians of Cyprus stressed several times that Dumenko is a schismatic and non-canonical “bishop”.

Naturally, it becomes more and more difficult for Archbishop Chrysostomos to ignore the opinion of the two theological organizations and pretend that nothing is happening. Moreover, in parallel to the statement of theologians, several Synodal metropolitans reported that they refused to concelebrate with their Primate until he either stopped commemorating Dumenko or convened the Holy Synod.

The refusal to concelebrate and the requirement to convene the Synod

On November 11, 2020, Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos voiced the position of those who disagree with the decision of Archbishop Chrysostomos. It should be emphasized that this position is wholly and completely based on the canons of the Church and the previous decisions of the Cypriot Synod, and not on one's own vision of the problem or personal ambitions.

As Metropolitan Isaiah noted, it follows from the statements of Archbishop Chrysostomos that he is ready to submit to the Synod only those issues for consideration on which he believes he will have a majority of votes. “We do not agree with a mentality leading to individual action, far from the conciliarity that the Holy Synod should have, which is supposed to make collective decisions,” said the Metropolitan of Tamassos. Vladyka stressed that he wants to have the right to discuss the problem of the OCU and that the final decision is with the Synod. The remark of Metropolitan Isaiah about the “right to discuss the problem” is really important as it opposes the increasing papal tendencies in the Church on the part of individual primates.

In addition, relying on the canons of the Church, Vladyka stated that he could not concelebrate Epiphany “or attend the service at which his name is mentioned because that would mean that I am violating the decision of the Holy Synod on neutrality. If I am somewhere present and he is mentioned, it means that I recognize him and his Church and thereby violate the decisions of the Holy Synod of Cyprus".

“I cannot concelebrate Epiphany or attend the service at which his name is mentioned, because that would mean that I am violating the decision of the Holy Synod on neutrality. If I am somewhere present and he is mentioned, it means that I recognize him and his Church and thereby violate the decisions of the Holy Synod of Cyprus.”

Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos

In other words, with this statement, Metropolitan Isaiah secured those who disagree from the accusations (which have already been heard) that they are creating a "para-synagogue" (schism) or a parallel Synod. Indeed, in fact, the decisions of the Church of Cyprus adopted in February 2019 were not cancelled, which means that they not only can but should be guided. Therefore, it is not the one who observes them, but the one who neglects them to blame.

What can this mean in our situation? Most likely, the Synod should focus its attention either on the violation by Archbishop Chrysostomos of the synodal structure of the Church or on his right to act as he did. Chrysostomos himself believes that he has such a right. At least five Synodals are sure he doesn’t. The question is what decision will be taken by the majority of the Synod of the Church of Cyprus.

What will the synodals focus on?

We note right away that the issues of the legitimacy of the Tomos, non-canonical status of Epiphany and dubiousness of his "ordination" can be left out of brackets. The Synod of the Cypriot Church made its judgment regarding the Tomos earlier. Regarding Dumenko, Phanar was asked a question (to clarify the canonical status of the OCU "ordinations"), which has not yet been answered.

Moreover, in his latest interview, Archbishop Chrysostomos also stated his unwillingness to discuss the Tomos and the commemoration of Dumenko. According to him, he "crystallized" his opinion back in March.

Therefore, most likely, the synodals of the Cypriot Church will try to make a decision solely within the framework of the problem that has arisen related to the one-sided commemoration of Epiphany by Archbishop Chrysostomos and the reaction of disgruntled members of the Synod to this action. At the same time, the issue can be viewed both through the prism of canons and of the current situation. Recall that at the previous meeting of the Synod, Archbishop Chrysostomos promised his brothers not to make a decision about Dumenko without their consent, but then he broke this promise.

There are 18 bishops in the Synod of the Cypriot Church. Of these, it is already known for sure, 5 will oppose the anti-canonical decision of Archbishop Chrysostomos. However, an apparent minority should not be misleading. Firstly, because there are some of most authoritative among these bishops not only in Cyprus, but also in the Greek-speaking world in general. Secondly, even though only five opposed the commemoration of Dumenko, none did anything in defense of this commemoration.

Even though only five opposed the commemoration of Dumenko, none did anything in defense of this commemoration.

Naturally, this fact does not imply that opponents of the legalization of the OCU will receive a majority in the Synod of the Church of Cyprus. According to the information available at the moment, the preponderance of those who are against is only one vote, and this situation can change one way or the other. That is why we have the right to suggest several scenarios.

What decisions can follow as a result of the Synod?

1. In case of a negative attitude of the majority of synodals towards the OCU, the Archbishop can revoke his decision to commemorate Dumenko.
Do not think that this assumption is fantastic and unrealistic. The already existing decision of the Synod on neutrality, as well as the Synodal nature of the Church in general, stands for “for-vote”. It is impossible to prove that the primate "has the right" to act in the matter of recognizing the Tomos of the OCU as he sees fit. After all, even in the case of the Church of Greece (being closely and firmly linked with Phanar), such a "right" was given to the Primate by the Synod. Therefore, revoking Dumenko's "recognition" is a very likely option. Another matter is whether Archbishop Chrysostomos will take this step.

2. In this case (if the majority of synodals speak out against the OCU, but the archbishop does not agree to withdraw his decision), the option of depriving Archbishop Chrysostomos of the primacy in the Church of Cyprus may be considered.
Again, there is no need to think that such a scenario is beyond fantasy. Let us recall that the very election of Chrysostomos to the post of primate raised a number of questions in its time. In fact, the elections of the new Primate of the Church of Cyprus in 2006 were held in several stages. On November 5, the third and final round of voting took place.

The first two rounds, when a group of clergy and a group of lay electors voted for the archbishop separately, did not identify a winner. Initially, the front-runners of the church pre-election race were Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol and Metropolitan Nikiforos of Kykkos, while Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Paphos, locum tenens of the archbishop's throne, took only the third place. In the first round of voting, only 10 votes out of 131 were cast for him. However, after Metropolitan Nikiforos withdrew his candidacy in favor of Chrysostomos, the balance of power changed dramatically. As a result, Metropolitan Chrysostomos was elected by 73 votes to 57 for Bishop Athanasios.

In addition, statements have surfaced lately that are denigrating Archbishop Chrysostomos now as the primate. For instance, the journalists accused him of “trading in influence” and stated that allegedly in 2015, Malaysian financier Joe Lowe, who was put on the international wanted list for fraud, “donated” 300,000 euros to the needs of the Archdiocese. The Primate of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus then sent two letters to the Minister of the Interior of Cyprus, Socrates Haskikos, asking him to grant Lowe Cypriot citizenship under the Citizenship by Investment program and investments in church lands. The Archdiocese received the money from the businessman then but has not returned it until now. Therefore, the assumption of the non-recognition of Dumenko and the initiation of stripping Archbishop Chrysostomos of his office has the right to exist. Alternatively, the head of the Church of Cyprus may declare his retirement "for health reasons" given that he has very big problems in this respect.

It is impossible to prove that the primate "has the right" to act in the matter of recognizing the Tomos of the OCU as he sees fit. After all, even in the case of the Church of Greece (being closely and firmly linked with Phanar), such a "right" was given to the Primate by the Synod.

3. It is possible that the Synod will take some kind of "trade-off" decision. For example, it will give the right to each bishop, depending on personal convictions and diocesan situation, to decide for himself the issue of recognizing Dumenko. At the same time, the synodal communiqué will prescribe that such a personal decision does not mean ultimate recognition by the Church of Cyprus, since this issue requires pan-Orthodox discussion.

4. However, it is not less possible that the majority of the votes of the members of the Synod of the Cypriot Church will be cast in favor of the decision of Archbishop Chrysostomos to commemorate Dumenko. Moreover, the Primate of the Church of Cyprus himself is sure of exactly this outcome. In the interview cited we have already mentioned him saying that the disgruntled synodals "attacked" him, "poured out bile" and treated him worse than if he "killed their parents". Therefore, most likely, he will try to turn the Synod into a trial over the bishops dissatisfied with his decision. In this case, we will become not only witnesses of the destruction of the synodal character of the Cypriot Church and the rapid growth of papal ambitions promoted by Phanar, but also the final affirmation of the schism in World Orthodoxy.

One cannot say for thirty years that black is black, but then suddenly declare that black is white. This is exactly what happened with the Ukrainian schismatics.

How will the dissenting Cypriot metropolitans act in this case? Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol has already stated that “I may disagree, but I will obey what the majority of the members of the Holy Synod decide,” while Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos said that “in the Holy Synod I can be persuaded by arguments in favor of something other than what I believe ... Ultimately, the Holy Synod has the final say." This means that if the Synod of Cyprus votes "for" the commemoration of Dumenko and finds "arguments" to convince its opponents of this decision being right, then these two metropolitans might stop fighting for the truth.

What will happen next – only God knows. But we can definitely say that at the moment the attention of all Orthodox Christians of the world is pinned to a small island state in the Mediterranean Sea, on which, by and large, the immediate future of the Church largely depends. Because if the Cypriot hierarchs still manage to prove their case and, in accordance with the canons of the Church, initiate the revocation of the unilateral decision by Archbishop Chrysostomos to commemorate Dumenko, this can entail similar processes in the Churches of Greece and Alexandria. There, too, there are many dissatisfied with the recognition of the OCU and they only need a precedent to express their dissatisfaction in a more specific form.

In addition, the problem associated with the commemoration of Dumenko is now evident to any sensible Christian. According to the apt remark of Archpriest Nikolai Danilevich, "Churches that recognize the OCU begin to have internal problems." Because in every Church there are thousands of people who disagree with this decision. After all, you cannot say for thirty years that black is black, but then suddenly declare that black is white. This is exactly what happened with the Ukrainian schismatics.

At the moment, we can only pray that the Lord would give wisdom to the hierarchs of Cyprus to deliver His Church from schism, the consequences of which will affect the fate of the whole world.

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How do you assess the Phanar's statements about possible union with Catholics?
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