With sorrow for Athos and the Patriarchate of Constantinople
Phanar can no longer stop on the path of ecumenism and violation of canons, and Athos can no longer stand firm in the Orthodox faith, concludes Met Seraphim of Piraeus.
Several months ago, the brochure "The Phanar had no right to interfere in the affairs of another Local Church" was published by the hierarch of the Church of Greece, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus. In it, he deals with the deviations from the faith of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the weakness of many, if not most of the Athonite monasteries, which tacitly, and sometimes openly, express their agreement with such actions of the Phanar. The opinion of Metropolitan Seraphim, sometimes expressed in rather harsh words, deserves to be read and heeded.
What is Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus?
Metropolitan Seraphim (Mentzelopoulos) was born in 1956. In 1980 he entered the Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos in Pentelis. He is a graduate of the Theological Department of the University of Athens. In 2001 he was ordained Bishop of Adelaide, Vicar of the Australian Archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and in 2006 he was appointed to the See of Piraeus. When elevated to the pulpit, he very eloquently refused to accept the gifts that, according to a long-standing tradition, are presented to the bishop entering the administration of the diocese. Explaining his deed, he said that he did not seek fame and earthly pleasures, did not want either gold or silver, and would selflessly work for the salvation of his flock.
As a metropolitan, he was very actively involved in public life and reacted strongly to the events that, in his opinion, require a moral assessment by the church hierarchy. He called for a boycott of the film "The Da Vinci Code" and the book of the same title by Dan Brown, calling them "anti-historical, absolutely false and ridiculous", protested against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cyprus, complained to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain about singer Elton John for his blasphemous words about Christ, criticized the hierarchy of the Serbian Church for removing Bishop Artemije (Radosavljević) of Raška-Prizren from the administration of the diocese.
In addition, he sharply criticized the Patriarch of Constantinople for ecumenism, the Greek authorities for recognizing the rights of LGBT people and promoting gender ideology. And, of course, Metropolitan Seraphim refused to recognize the OCU, despite the opinion of other hierarchs of the Greek Church, stating that he is opposed to “the malicious activity of excommunicated, separated and non-ordained secular persons in schism, whom the Holy and Sacred Synod of the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate had erroneously restored without the canonical procedure prescribed by the sacred canons”.
Athos is not the same as it was
According to Metropolitan Seraphim, the situation with the recognition of the OCU by some Athonite monasteries only revealed the already existing degradation of spiritual life and steadfastness in faith on Athos.
“The serious spiritual degradation of the present Holy Mountain is already a sad fact, which has been stated by many clergymen and prominent personalities who follow the events on Athos, and indeed how its presence is indicated in modern church reality,” the bishop writes. And indeed, if earlier the Athonites preferred all sorts of hardships and even death to deviating from the faith, now we are seeing how worldly cares and concern for the material well-being of monasteries force some abbots to obey the requirements of Patriarch Bartholomew and American diplomats and recognize the OCU, to allow to worship in their monasteries persons who do not have not only canonical ordination to the priesthood but even baptism. Moreover, the Athonites themselves, as a rule, understand this perfectly well but hide behind an excuse: they say, since the Patriarch of Constantinople "himself" recognized them, then who are we to contradict him? In the old days, the inhabitants of the Holy Mountain took completely different positions. For them, the most important thing was the purity of the Orthodox Faith rather than the opinion of the powers that be.
“With heartache, we are convinced that the modern Mount Athos, which was once a stronghold of Orthodoxy, a seawall against which heresies were broken, the mountain that showed a whole host of monks and monastic martyrs, ascetics and confessors of the faith, has, unfortunately, nothing to do with that Holy Mount that we got to know in our youth about thirty-five years ago."
Many Orthodox Christians in many countries are used to looking at Athos as a spiritual beacon in the raging sea of life. The opinion of the Holy Mountain was revered as a testimony of the truth of stern ascetics, men of prayer, devotees of piety, who despise such factors as wealth, the favour of the authorities and the opinion of the world in general. Who could say together with the Apostle John: “We know that we are children of God and that the whole world lies in evil” (1 John 5:19).
But now, according to Metropolitan Seraphim, the situation has changed radically: “But today we are looking at Holy Mount Athos and do not recognize its spiritual appearance; it is frightened and enslaved by its superior ecclesiastical authority, willing to obey the direction of the Phanar, even when the latter is doing wrong in many ways. Athos that lacks a pulse, Athos devoid of liveliness, the spirit of asceticism and confession. Athos that in many matters and especially in matters of faith, heresies and schisms seems to approve, stands in one row and closely cooperates with heresy and schism. Athos that sways between heresy and Orthodoxy, being unable to give a theological answer, to stand up to its full height and denounce heresy and those who promote it, whoever they are."
In general, the fall of the unshakable, as it seemed until recently, spiritual authorities, makes us think about what it is possible for Orthodox Christians to focus on today, who to trust and who to follow? The holy psalmist David says that in such situations one should wait for help and salvation directly from God, who will not hesitate to reveal it: “For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps 11: 2,3).
The fall of the unshakable, as it seemed until recently, spiritual authorities, makes us think about what it is possible for Orthodox Christians to focus on today, who to trust and who to follow?
Some interpreters of the Scripture draw attention to the fact that the prophet David does not say that the truth disappeared altogether, but that it “belittled”, that is it became little and imperceptible. But it still exists. So, on today's Athos, there are monasteries and there are monks who do not follow the path of alienation of faith and piety but firmly stand in Orthodoxy, no matter what. “Of course, these conclusions do not apply to all Athonite monasteries and Athonite fathers. Thank God that there are monasteries, there are few of them, of course, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand (Gregoriou, Caracalla, Konstamonitou and Philotheou), as well as many monks in hermitages and cells, who continue to resist the all-heresy of ecumenism and the arbitrariness of the Phanar," writes Metropolitan Seraphim.
OCU creation is the most tragic event in recent decades
"Ukrainian autocephaly <...> has become the most tragic ‘church event of recent decades’ because it caused a worldwide schism of a pan-Orthodox scale," writes Metropolitan Seraphim.
As you know, Patriarch Bartholomew and his supporters stubbornly deny the existence of a split in Orthodoxy as a result of his anti-canonical actions on the creation of the OCU. The state of absence of Eucharistic communion between the ROC and the Phanar, as well as the fact that ten out of fourteen generally recognized Local Orthodox Churches do not recognize the OCU, is called by them a kind of temporary misunderstanding, which will supposedly be settled as soon as the ROC sees that the creation of the OCU is a fait accompli.
Ukrainian autocephaly has become the most tragic ‘church event of recent decades’ because it caused a worldwide schism of a pan-Orthodox scale.
Metropolitan Seraphim focuses not only on the fact that ten Local Churches do not recognize the OCU but also that the recognition of this structure in the Alexandrian, Greek and Cypriot Churches took place with obvious violations and is not a true full-fledged recognition.
“The Patriarch of Alexandria recognized Ukrainian autocephaly as a fait accompli and remembered the false metropolitan Epiphany, without first convening the Council so that it finally spoke out in favour or against the recognition of Ukrainian autocephaly. Apparently, knowing that if the Council was convened, the majority of the episcopate would object and he would not achieve his goal, the patriarch made a decision on sole recognition, trampling on conciliarity and acting like a little pope."
“The Council of Bishops of the Church of Greece discussed Ukrainian autocephaly, but there was no nominal vote (as it should have been on such a burning issue) so that the bishops could express their opinion through voting. So, in the end (in an unacceptable and anti-conciliar way), the opinion of its chairman, Archbishop Jerome, prevailed."
We add that the Church of Cyprus did not make a decision at all on recognizing the OCU but agreed not to object to the commemoration of Sergei Petrovich (Epiphany) Dumenko by the Primate of the Church of Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos. Even purely logically, not to mention the historical tradition of recognition, the text of the corresponding document of the Synod of the Cypriot Church is not a recognition of the OCU.
Phanar invaded the canonical territory of others
Affirming the fact that for more than three centuries the entire fullness of the Orthodox Church, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople, has recognized that the jurisdiction of the Russian Church extends to the territory of Ukraine, Metropolitan Seraphim refers to the recent research of Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos.
“As Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos showed in his recent work, according to official data, documents and publications of even the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, which came out of its own 'Patriarch Printing House' of Constantinople, in accordance with the research of the leaders and employees of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (archivist of the Ecumenical Throne K. Dellikanis, Protopresbyter F. Zisis, V. Stavridis, Vl. Fidas, Gr. Larendzakis), as well as from the officially declared position of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew himself (letters, words), it follows that the very ecclesiastical and canonical consciousness of the Ecumenical Throne of the last three and a half centuries until 2018 years did not consider Ukraine its canonical territory, but in the most official and clear way recognized that it belongs to the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate,” Vladyka Seraphim writes.
As a matter of fact, this is what both the UOC and the ROC said from the very beginning: the Patriarchate of Constantinople cannot interfere in the Ukrainian church issue as it has no grounds for that. Separately, Metropolitan Seraphim focuses on the fact that in Ukraine there is the canonical UOC and the canonical Metropolitan of Kiev: “All Churches, without a single exception, recognize Metropolitan Onuphry as the only canonical Metropolitan of Kiev. Only with him and his Synod did all the Orthodox Churches have communion at inter-Orthodox and pan-Orthodox concelebrations and within the framework of the work of the commissions. This unanimity expresses the pan-Orthodox and universal ecclesiastical consciousness of Orthodoxy, which no one has the right to neglect without serious consequences."
All Churches, without a single exception, recognize Metropolitan Onuphry as the only canonical Metropolitan of Kiev. Only with him and his Synod did all the Orthodox Churches have communion at inter-Orthodox and pan-Orthodox concelebrations and within the framework of the work of the commissions.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople neglected this unanimity, and the tragic consequences were not long in coming – they manifested themselves in the formation of a schism in Orthodoxy. It should be noted that Metropolitan Seraphim not only states the fact of the Phanar’s invasion of another's canonical territory but also lists the sacred canons that were thus violated: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate has no canonical right to interfere with the jurisdiction of another Local Church (in this case, the Russian Church), and, therefore, has committed a serious canonical crime, namely the invasion, condemned by many sacred canons (2nd can. of the II, 2nd of the III, 39th of the V-VI Ecumenical Councils, 13th and 22nd of the Antioch Council, 3rd of the Council of Sardica, etc.) and the entire Church Tradition."
The schismatics had no repentance
In his publication, Metropolitan Seraphim answers this question for the reason that there is the opinion among those who support the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew that the former head of the UOC-KP Filaret Denisenko and the former head of the UAOC Makariy Maletich, had "repentance", and it was expressed in the fact that they dissolved the religious organizations headed by them at the “Unification Council” in December 2018.
Vladyka Seraphim points out that this action cannot in any way be considered repentance. He recalls that Filaret Denisenko was previously a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, then he was defrocked and excommunicated from the Church, and Makariy Maletich was a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church and became a “bishop” while already outside the Church of Christ.
“In order to answer the question of whether there was repentance on the part of the schismatics, we must figure out whether they returned to church communion with the Local Church from which they had broken away. After all, this is precisely what repentance means: I dissolve the church organization that I created and without fail return to the church structure from which I broke away. Yes, Filaret and Makariy dissolved the schismatic associations that they had created, but they did not return to the church structure from which they had broken off, i.e. to the canonical Ukrainian Church headed by Metropolitan Onuphry."
An additional (and very convincing) argument that there was no repentance is the fact that in 2019 Filaret Denisenko left the OCU and announced that he was again the head of the UOC-KP.
The Patriarch of Constantinople is not the highest court of appeal
As you know, Patriarch Bartholomew and his supporters claim that the head of the Phanar has the right to receive appeals from the clergy who disagree with the decisions of their bishops or Councils from all Local Churches. It turns out that the issue of a supreme appeal was already raised in the 4th-5th centuries and was resolved by the Church at the level of the Ecumenical Councils. True, in those days, the claims to be the highest court of appeal were expressed not by the Bishop of Constantinople but by the Bishop of Rome.
“So, from the point of view of the canons in relation to the topic under consideration, the most important question arises: are the decisions of the full Synod chaired by the Patriarch, which is the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, unappealable, or can they still be appealed to another Patriarchal Synod. This topic occupied the Ecumenical Church after the Council of Sardica with its 3rd, 4th and 5th canons.”
In 419, the Local Council took place in Carthage. It was attended by 217 bishops, including the legates of the Pope: Bishop Faustinus, a bishop of the people of Potentia, of the Italian province of Picenum, and Presbyters Philip and Asellus. The main question on the agenda was the following: Does the Pope have the right to receive appeals against the decisions of the Councils of the Church of Carthage? The answer was unequivocal - it doesn’t, and the wording of this answer was rather harsh: “ It also seemed good that presbyters, deacons, and others of the inferior clergy in the causes which they had, if they were dissatisfied with the judgments of their bishops, let the neighbouring bishops with the consent of their own bishop hear them, and let the bishops who have been called in judge between them: but if they think they have a cause of appeal from these, they shall not betake themselves to judgments from beyond seas, but to the primates of their own provinces, or else to a universal council, as has also been decreed concerning bishops. But whoever shall think good to carry an appeal across the water shall be received to communion by no one within the boundaries of Africa." That is, the request of the clergy with an appeal to the Bishop of Rome was generally recognized as a basis for ex-communication from church communion.
As the canons of Council of Carthage (A.D. 419) were approved by the 2nd Canon of the Holy Fifth-Sixth Ecumenical Council, as well as the 1st Canon of the ΙV Ecumenical Council and the 1st Canon of the VII Ecumenical Council, this decision is confirmed by the authority of the Ecumenical Councils and is generally binding. Metropolitan Seraphim writes: “Consequently, the ancient Church accepted what the 3rd, 4th and 5th Canons determined with regard to special privileges that were vested in the then Orthodox bishop of Old Rome in relation to the bishops subordinate to him and only to them, but not granting him the highest ecclesiastical jurisdiction.” All well-known interpreters of the canonical rules affirm this principle: appeals of the clergy are considered by the hierarchy of that Local Church where these clerics perform or performed their ministry.
The schismatics have no priestly dignity
When the creation of the OCU was still under development, many bishops and theologians, both sympathetic to the Phanar and not sympathetic, racked their brains over the question: how will the Phanar solve the problem of the lack of canonical ordinations among the schismatics? After all, everyone knows that almost all the “bishops” of the OCU were “ordained” at a time when the entire Orthodox world recognized them as excommunicated from the Church. The most frequently heard speculation was that the Phanariots would secretly or explicitly “re-ordain” the “episcopate” of the OCU. No one could even think of recognizing these "ordinations" retroactively. But the Phanar did just that, thereby establishing a new view of the Sacrament of the priesthood. According to this new view, the Grace of the Holy Spirit descends on the one ordained by virtue of the recognition of this on the part of the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, this only testifies to how perversely the Phanar understands this Sacrament.
The Phanar established a new view of the Sacrament of the priesthood. According to this new view, the Grace of the Holy Spirit descends on the one ordained by virtue of the recognition of this on the part of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
It should be noted that Metropolitan Seraphim is not as categorical on the issue of non-recognition of the "ordinations" of schismatics as in many other issues. He is not saying that the retroactive appearance of priesthood grace is impossible in principle. He writes that this issue is not within the competence of the Phanar, but of the ROC: “The only ecclesiastical power that has the authority to make decisions on the reinstatement of schismatics in their rank is the Russian Church, provided, of course, that schismatics show sincere repentance, which, as Professor Tselengidis fairly remarks, is sine qua non for the return of schismatics to the canonical field. And to this day, of course, the schismatics have not shown this repentance." Here one can disagree with the opinion of Metropolitan Seraphim. He speaks of "the reinstatement of schismatics in their dignity" under the condition of their repentance, but after all, it is impossible to "reinstate" a person in what he did not have. If we admit that the “ordinations” of the “bishops” of the OCU are null, that they are nothing more than a fiction, then how can they be reinstated in their dignity even under the condition of oikonomia?
But be that as it may, Metropolitan Seraphim unequivocally does not recognize the presence of the Grace of the priesthood in the OCU.
About Ukrainian autocephaly
Metropolitan Seraphim writes that autocephaly, allegedly granted by the Phanar to the OCU, could not be bestowed for two reasons: firstly, Constantinople had no right to do it unilaterally, and secondly, autocephaly can only be granted to a canonically recognized church structure, which asks for this autocephaly.
Let's make a reservation right away, Metropolitan Seraphim left alone the most important argument for the impossibility of granting autocephaly to the OCU. And this argument is mentioned above – it is impossible to call the community of laymen without priestly dignity the Autocephalous Church. All other arguments given by the Greek bishop are certainly convincing, but only in theory, without any connection with the legalization of Ukrainian schismatics.
In Orthodoxy, there is no procedure for granting autocephaly, enshrined in the canons. The Ecumenical Councils have not left us this. Historically, autocephaly was granted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian Church. Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian and other Churches, and the ROC – to the Polish Church, the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, as well as the Orthodox Church in America (recognized by the Russian, Georgian, Bulgarian, Polish and Czechoslovak Churches, the rest consider it part of the ROC). However, autocephaly granted by the ROC took place several decades ago and is challenged by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Phanar claims that the right to grant autocephaly to anyone belongs only to it. The reason for this is only the ambitious desire of the Phanar itself and nothing more.
Historical precedents that are not enshrined in the canon law corpus remain historical precedents. In order to fill this gap in canon law, during the preparation of the Council in Crete, which took place in 2016, there was developed a document on the procedure for granting autocephaly, which was not submitted for discussion by the Council of Crete, and the Crete Council itself did not become pan-Orthodox, as originally intended, due to the absence of representatives of the Antiochian, Georgian, Bulgarian and Russian Churches at it. However, Metropolitan Seraphim nevertheless refers to the developed document on the order of autocephaly and points to its basic principle: the consent of all Local Churches.
"The Tomos, proclaiming autocephaly, as a necessary condition, among other things, provided for the consent of all Local Churches: ‘Since the Ecumenical Patriarch secures the consent of the autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches by obtaining written consent from them, he can single-handedly sign the Patriarchal Tomos ... ‘. From the above, it becomes clear that without the consent and consensus of all Local Churches, i.e. without observing the conditions, the Ecumenical Patriarch can neither grant autocephaly, nor accept appeals, nor be ‘the administrator of church affairs’,” writes the Vladyka.
The second reason for denying the autocephaly of the OCU is that the canonical UOC did not ask for any autocephaly: “Another very important aspect of this topic is that the Local Church of Ukraine, headed by Metropolitan Onuphry, officially recognized by all Local Churches, did not ask and did not seek to acquire autocephalous status, unlike, of course, other autocephalies granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Hellas, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, Albanian and Czech and Slovak) when the Local Churches made a corresponding request. <...> There is no comparison between the autocephaly granted to the schismatics and members of the Ukrainian parasynagogue and the canonical granting of the autocephalous status by the Honest Ecumenical Patriarchate to the canonical Churches of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Albania and the Czech Republic and Slovakia."
Metropolitan Seraphim also argues that the theory of the "First without equals", which was developed by Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas) and Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of America, is aimed at promoting the ecumenical aspirations of the Phanar. But Vladyka Seraphim did not consider this issue in detail in this publication but referred those interested to his earlier publications. And the final thesis of the metropolitan is that one should not hope that the current division in Orthodoxy will somehow resolve itself over time.
In this, Metropolitan Seraphim is absolutely right: in order to solve the problem of the existing division, firstly, it is necessary to seek a common solution of all Local Churches, and secondly, this decision should be based on the sacred canons of the Church, and not on the ambitions of individual church hierarchs.