To punish objectors: Abp Chrysostomos solved the issue of OCU “ordinations”

28 November 2020 19:11
Archbishop Chrysostomos threatens to punish the objecting hierarchs by defrocking. Photo: UOJ Archbishop Chrysostomos threatens to punish the objecting hierarchs by defrocking. Photo: UOJ

Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus said that bishops who refuse to concelebrate with him because of OCU would be defrocked. Who follows church canons in this situation?

On November 26, 2020, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos, during a TV show on the Cypriot RIK channel, stated that the recognition of the OCU is mandatory for all bishops and laymen of the Church of Cyprus, and those hierarchs who refuse to obey the decision of the Synod will be punished, up to being defrocked.

The fact is that even before the Synod, Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos said that he couldn't serve with Archbishop Chrysostomos, if the latter commemorated Dumenko "or attend the service in which his name is made a mention of, because it would mean that I violate the decision of the Holy Synod on neutrality. If I am present somewhere, and he (Dumenko – Ed.) is commemorated, it means that I recognize him and his church and thereby violate the decision of the Holy Synod of Cyprus."

Shortly after the meeting of the Holy Synod on November 25, Metropolitan Isaiah noted that "while preserving the unity of the Church of Cyprus during this difficult period," he will continue to commemorate Archbishop Chrysostomos, "but he will leave the issue of concelebration to his hierarchical conscience.”

Apart from Metropolitan Isaiah, the decision of the Holy Synod was dismissed by Metropolitan Nikoforos, who stressed that the recognition of Dumenko as a canonical "metropolitan" cannot be binding. He also recalled that the history of the Church knows cases when individual hierarchs did not obey the decisions of entire councils, and they were right in the end. As an example, Metropolitan Nikiforos referred to St. Mark of Ephesus, who chose not to sign the decisions of the Union of Ferrara and Florence.

If I am present somewhere and Dumenko is commemorated, it means that I recognize him and his сhurch and thereby violate the decrees of the Holy Synod of Cyprus. 

Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos.

In the aftermath of these statements, Metropolitan Georgios of Paphos, a supporter of the recognition of the OCU, said that in his opinion, the decisions of the Synod are binding on all, while Archbishop Chrysostomos underscored that when someone asks for the convening of the Synod, he must respect its decisions.

As we can see, the situation in Cyprus is heated to the limit. However, this does not prevent Archbishop Chrysostomos to believe that "there is neither schism and nor crisis in the Cyprus Church," and "this stance of arbitrariness will soon fade away.” He is sure that those who do not agree with the decisions of the Synod, "cannot get away with this": “We all concelebrate the Divine Liturgy a few times a year during festivities. If I invite them to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with me, they cannot refuse to do so. When I invite them, they cannot come only if they get sick. If they choose not to attend, they will be punished. The punishments provided for range from reprimand to defrocking. We cannot do what we want within the Church of Cyprus."

In other words, the Primate of the Cyprus Church has made it clear that he intends to pursue with the issue of recognition of the OCU and to leverage all available means for this end – from convincing the objectors to banning them from priesthood or even defrocking.

It is worth emphasizing in this regard that, first of all, defrocking is a very serious punishment, and only those who violate the canons of the Church can be punished in this way. Secondly, the Primate of whatever Church has no right to unilaterally deprive a bishop of his dignity, as the Primate himself is only the first bishop in honor.

This means that defrocking calls for a decision of the Council of Bishops, which takes it on the basis of a conclusion of the ecclesiastic court. This, again, brings us back to the issue of violation of the canons of the Church. So what are the rules infringed by the Cypriot hierarchs who objected to the recognition of Dumenko as the 'metropolitan' of Kyiv?

How was Dumenko "ordained"?

Let us recall that the first serious, or rather, insurmountable obstacle in the issue of recognizing Dumenko as a “hierarch” is his lacking canonical consecration.

Dumenko was “ordained” in 2009 by Filaret Denisenko alongside several “hierarchs” of the UOC-KP – Dimitriy Rudiuk, Alexander Reshetniak, Mikhail Zinkevich, Lavrentiy Migovich, Lavrentiy Khavruk, Ilarion Protsik and Eustratiy Zoria. All these people (with the exception of Migovich, "ordained" by the UAOC in the St. Andrew's church of Kyiv) received their "episcopal dignity" from the hands of Denisenko, who was defrocked in 1992 and anathematized by the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997.

Let us emphasize that the validity of this anathema was fully and unquestionably recognized by all of the Orthodox Churches without exception, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1992 Patriarch Bartholomew wrote in a letter to Patriarch Alexy II: “In response to the telegram and letter of Your Beatitude regarding the problem that arose in our Holy Sister – the Russian Orthodox Church and led Her Holy Synod, for obvious reasons, to the dethronement until recently Honorary Member of the Synod, Metropolitan Filaret of Kyiv, we wish to fraternally inform Your love that our Holy Ecumenical Church of Christ, recognizing the plentitude of the exclusive competence of your Holy Russian Church on this issue, adopts the relevant Synodal decision on the above." Moreover, in 1993, Patriarch Bartholomew believed that the very fact of defrocking Filaret implies the deprivation of his episcopal dignity. Here are his words, recorded by the then Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine N. Zhulinsky: "Nobody recognizes Filaret as a bishop."

Nobody recognizes Filaret as a bishop.

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

From the point of view of canon law of the Church, this implies that all the sacred acts performed by Filaret from the moment of his deprivation of dignity are considered null and void, i.e. invalid. In other words, both the "consecration" of the participants in Dumenko's "ordination" and the "consecration" of the latter have no canonical force. Denisenko was and is perfectly aware of this fact.

For example, in an interview with the Den’ newspaper on September 15, 2001, he stated that “the solution of many important issues depends on the interpretation of anathema like 'Do two Ukrainian non-canonical Churches have episcopates or not?' Because non-recognition of Patriarch Filaret automatically involves non-recognition of all those bishops whom he ordained, and those, in turn, who were ordained by the bishops previously ordained by him. If I am defrocked, it turns out that there is no corps of the Ukrainian priesthood (UAOC, UOC-KP, OCU – Ed.), because they are all ordained by invalid hierarchs."

And even Phanar's non-canonical "removal" of the anathema from Filaret in 2018 does not change the situation in the slightest. Because, according to Denisenko, “if the Ecumenical Patriarch removed the anathema from me in 2018, then was I anathematized or not until 2018? If I was, it means that all these bishops (OCU – Ed.) are invalid and Epiphany is neither a metropolitan – nor even a priest. If the Ecumenical Patriarch lifted the anathema from me in 2018, then the entire episcopate is invalid."

If I am defrocked, it turns out that the corps of the Ukrainian priesthood does not exist either (because they are all ordained by invalid bishops).

Filaret Denisenko

This fact was also pointed out to the Patriarchate of Constantinople by representatives of practically all Local Churches – all Denisenko's "ordinations", performed by him after he had been defrocked by the ROC and even more so after the anathema, are invalid. And this is not the private opinion of Synods or individual hierarchs, but the canonical position of the Church: Sergei Dumenko, who was "ordained" by the person excommunicated from the Church, could not become a canonical bishop. And even the majority of the votes of the Cypriot Synod, in the opinion of Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, did not automatically turn him into a canonical one.

Attitude towards "ordinations" of the OCU of the Synod of the Cypriot Church

The Communiqué of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus dated February 18, 2019 clearly and unequivocally says about the “ordinations” of the OCU: “The experience of the entire Orthodox Church gives us reason to doubt the possibility of legalizing ‘retroactively’those ordinations that were performed by banned, excommunicated and anathematized bishops. The ban, excommunication and anathema of the individuals who initiated the Ukrainian crisis were recognized by all Orthodox Christians."

Recall that this synodal decree was adopted unanimously (unlike the decision “not to object” to the commemoration of Dumenko), which means that it was also signed by Archbishop Chrysostomos, who in February 2019 did not consider Sergei Dumenko a hierarch.

Slightly further in the same communiqué we read: "The Ecumenical Patriarchate must again find a way to calm the consciousness of believers regarding the validity of ordinations and sacraments, performed by this leadership (OCU – Ed.)."

Has such a way been found?

Making a case for the recognition of Dumenko, Archbishop Chrysostomos cites his personal conversation with Patriarch Bartholomew and, allegedly, the original documents he saw during his stay on Phanar. Referring to these documents, Archbishop Chrysostomos told the synodals that he "learned the whole truth about Ukraine" and only the documents indicate "who is right."

Perhaps Archbishop Chrysostomos is talking about some kind of "secret" documents that testify to Dumenko's valid ordination? No. Archbishop Chrysostomos said that the essence of these documents boils down to the fact that "in the Tomos of autocephaly, granted to Russia, there was a condition that the Church of Ukraine must first commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as a local head and then the Patriarch of Moscow."

Consequently, he believes that Ukraine is the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Full stop. How does this belief affect the apostolic succession among the schismatics of Ukraine? Does it proceed from the the fact of Phanar having a document on the procedure for commemorating patriarchs that the OCU automatically received grace? No, it doesn't. In other words, the schismatics remained schismatics – without ordinations, without the Holy Sacraments, without the Eucharist. And no matter how many "secret" documents Archbishop Chrysostomos might refer to in order to justify his actions, schismatics will certainly remain schismatics.

What do the canons say about concelebrating with schismatics?

Well, the Primate of the Church of Cyprus himself, as well as those who recognize Dumenko as a canonical bishop, actually enter into communion with the breakaway group and violate the Apostolic rules. According to canons, whoever enters into the Eucharist or literally into any prayer communion with schismatics, also becomes a schismatic.

In the 10th canon of the Holy Apostles we read: "If anyone shall pray, even in a private house, with an excommunicated person, let him also be excommunicated," while the 11th canon goes as follows: “If any clergyman shall join in prayer with a deposed clergyman, as if he were a clergyman, let him also be deposed.”

"If any one shall pray, even in a private house, with an excommunicated person, let him also be excommunicated."

Canon 10 of the Holy Apostles

Thus, Archbishop Chrysostomos, having joined in prayerful communion with the schismatic, let himself become a schismatic too. It is impossible to challenge this thesis from a canonical point of view. This is probably understood by the Primate of the Church of Cyprus himself. For this reason, he resorts to banal threats and intimidation, pinning his rationale not on the canons of the Church, but on the autocratic position that was very aptly characterized by Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou: “I am the Primate and I’m free to do what I want”.

Yet, as Vladyka Neophytos further noted, “Orthodoxy is not used to this kind of papism. Its structure is synodal, this is what the papists envy and fear so we should not fall into the sin of papism." It turns out hence that the bishops of the Church of Cyprus, who disagree with the commemoration of the schismatics by their primate, follow the canons of the Church and the unanimous (!) decision of their Synod on neutrality in the situation at hand. There is neither disrespect nor contempt for Archbishop Chrysostomos in their actions. They are willing to honor the canonical order of the Church and preserve its synodal structure. We can say with confidence that their position is the position of confessors, which can only be granted to the people who seek in this life anything but Christ.

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