Non-commemoration of Russian Patriarch: a schism or an acceptable deviation

Patriarch Kyrill's position on the war in Ukraine discredits the UOC and causes a storm of negativity and aggression towards its believers. Photo: UOJ

Almost two dozen eparchies of the UOC have decided not to mention Patriarch Kyrill's name during services. Can this move be considered a schism?

After a month and a half of the war of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, almost two dozen eparchies of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have already announced the termination of the commemoration of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, during all divine services.

The bishops (or eparchial councils) explained their decision, firstly, by the fact that Patriarch Kirill's position on the war in Ukraine differs from that held by almost all the hierarchs and the faithful of our country. And secondly, by the need to keep the tempted believers from joining the OCU, as it is very difficult to explain what is happening in Ukraine now with the help of church arguments.

The Patriarchate considered that such an explanation of the reasons for the non-commemoration of the Patriarch is nothing but a schism. On this occasion, Patriarch Kirill wrote a resolution on the report of Metropolitan Yevlogy of Sumy, which said that "the termination of the commemoration of the Primate of the Church not because of doctrinal or canonical errors or misconceptions, but because of inconsistency with certain political views and preferences, is a schism, for which anyone who initiates it will answer before God and not only in the future, but also in the present".

As an opposite example, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church cited "Archpriest Gregory Prozorov, who did not stop commemorating the name of Metropolitan Sergius, who until 1942, that is, until his arrest and death, conducted services in the only Moscow Patriarchate church in Berlin during the war" (it should be noted that this is not an entirely accurate example since Archpriest Gregory Prozorov was commemorating the Primate of the Church, against whose people military aggression was waged, not vice versa).

The words about schism, all the more so from the mouth of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, are very serious accusations and therefore cannot be sidestepped in silence. Therefore let’s see if the non-commemoration of the name of the Primate of the Church by the bishops and priests can be considered a schism.

Canons

The first argument to which those who do not commemorate appeal is that of canon law. The fact is that the canons of the Church say absolutely nothing about the obligation of priests to remember the name of the Patriarch during divine services.

In contrast to them, supporters of commemoration point to Canons 13, 14 and 15 of the Council of Constantinople of 861, also known as Protodeutera, which say that the priest must commemorate the bishop (Canon 13), the bishop – the metropolitan (Canon 14), and the metropolitan – the patriarch (Canon 15).

But a careful reading of these canons, as well as their application to the situation with the UOC (which is self-governed, has the rights of wide autonomy and its Primate), does not allow us to conclude that the Ukrainian bishops, who ceased commemoration of Patriarch Kirill, have fallen into schism. All of them commemorate His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, who, in turn, commemorates the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (albeit in a somewhat “ abridged” version: instead of “master and father” only as “master”), which means that the canons of the Protodeutera Council are not violated.

By and large, by refusing to commemorate the Patriarch, the Ukrainian eparchies returned to the practice of most Local Churches, in which priests commemorate only the name of the ruling bishop, who, in turn, – the Primate. Is it worth reminding once again that the Primate of the UOC is His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry?

Tradition

In general, the tradition of commemorating the Patriarch of Moscow in all churches of the Russian Church until the middle of the 17th century was virtually non-existent. For example, an excellent article by priest Mikhail Zheltov reads: “In the handwritten Service Book of the 15th and 16th centuries, originating both from Moscow and Novgorod, and from the southern Russian lands, the commemoration of the hierarch retains its traditional form, inherited from Byzantium: “our archbishop name-to-be-spoken” and only in the Service Book, published under Patriarch Nikon in 1655, it is prescribed to commemorate both the patriarch and the local bishop. At the same time, at the exclamation “Remember first ...” (according to the Service Book of 1655), “the priest should commemorate only the Patriarch of Moscow, while the commemoration of the local bishop is placed in the deacon’s diptych after the said exclamation.”

Naturally, no one dares to assert that until 1655 the priests of the Russian Church who did not remember the name of the Patriarch were in schism.

The tradition of commemorating the Patriarch of Moscow in all churches of the Russian Church until the middle of the 17th century was virtually non-existent.

In turn, priest Georgy Maximov of the Russian Church, defending the point of view of the Patriarchate, argues that priests of the ROC and UOC took an oath to follow the established tradition in everything. This means that since it is prescribed in the Service Book to commemorate the name of the Patriarch, then a refusal to do so is a violation of the oath of allegiance.

However, such an accusation of violating the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church gives rise to a number of comments. For example, in the Russian Church, it is customary to say all the Eucharistic prayers over one cup (and only then, after "Our Father," if necessary, the Blood of the Saviour may be added to additional cups). But Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), contrary to tradition, performs the liturgy simultaneously over several chalices (sometimes up to a dozen), and no one from the Patriarchate accuses him of violating the oath of allegiance and oath-breaking. In addition, during the coronavirus pandemic in the Russian Orthodox Church, it was decided to give communion with several spoons or by dipping a spoon in an alcoholic solution. Here one can hardly speak of observing any tradition.  

The same can be said about servicing in masks or the Patriarch's appeals not to attend temples.

Fear for the sake of the Jews?

The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church was absolutely right when, in a sermon on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy on March 13, 2022, he emphasized that “the dependence of the Church on an external force, the dependence on those who have political power, is the most dangerous dependence” and that "we respect the secular authorities, but we reserve the right to be free from government interference in the internal life of the Church".

However, the words of the Patriarch about the cowardice of the Ukrainian bishops who refused to commemorate his name look very strange, especially against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the above decisions (about spoons, masks and not attending temples): “Today, even remembering the name of the Patriarch in the church becomes impossible for some for fear of the Jews” and “when someone, out of fear, refuses to commemorate the Patriarch, then this, of course, is a sign of weakness, it is certainly a sign of weakness, it is dangerous for the spiritual life of those who in small ways deviate from the truth", since if "today we do not commemorate the Patriarch because we are afraid, then tomorrow someone may demand more".
Agree, the accusations against Ukrainian bishops who were not afraid of the coronavirus did not stop church services and did not introduce any innovations regarding the sacraments of the Church (even under pressure from the authorities), are dubious, to say the least. Especially if we recall that on March 29, 2020, Patriarch Kirill urged believers to refrain from visiting churches for fear of death (quote: “By the grace of God, practically no one has died in any family yet. If this happens, in the blink of an eye, everyone will imagine (covid mortality – Ed.), moreover, we will fall into panic").

In other words, the “coronavirus” decisions were made by the Patriarch and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church for reasons of “preservation of health” under pressure from the authorities and external circumstances. It's hard not to draw some parallels.

What does history say?

In the history of the Church, the refusal of bishops to commemorate the Patriarch, which is not motivated by heresy, is nothing new.

Thus, in the 1930s, a number of ROC bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church disagreed with the position of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), who compromised with the Bolsheviks. These bishops refused to commemorate his name during services, remembering only the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky), who was under arrest. However, they did not go so far as to break off ecclesiastical communion with Metropolitan Sergius and the Provisional Patriarchal Synod under him.

In the history of the Church, the refusal of bishops to commemorate the Patriarch, which is not motivated by heresy, is nothing new.

The group of these bishops was called "non-commemorating" and, according to Metropolitan Juvenaly (Poyarkov), the Chairman of the Synodal Commission for Canonization of Saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, in their regard "no malicious, purely personal motives can be detected. Their actions were motivated by the concern understood in their own way for the good of the Church.”

Later, many of the " non-commemorating" were canonised as saints. These included Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov), Metropolitan Agafangel (Preobrazhensky), Archbishop Seraphim (Samoilovich), Bishop Victor (Ostrovidov), Damaskin (Tsedrik), Athanasius (Sakharov) and others.

At the same time, none of the reprisals imposed by Metropolitan Sergius on the "renegades" (a term coined by Metropolitan Sergius) who separated from him was formally abolished.

One can also recall that back in 1990 Patriarch Alexy, at a meeting with the clergy of the western eparchies of the UOC in the Pochaev Lavra, blessed them not to mention the name of the Patriarch during services if it caused rejection. This was justified by oikonomia for the good of the Holy Church. And no one has since denounced the UOC clergy who refused to commemorate the name of the Patriarch as schismatic. Neither has anyone called Bishop Longin (Zhar), who back in March 2016 accused Patriarch Kirill of the heresy of ecumenism and refused to commemorate his name during services, a schismatic.

Furthermore, over the last 30 years, we have seen the Patriarch of Constantinople stop commemorating the Archbishop of Athens, the Patriarch of Jerusalem refusing to commemorate the Patriarch of Antioch and vice versa. After all, there is no information that Patriarch Kirill stopped the commemoration of Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Theodore, Archbishop Jerome and Archbishop Chrysostomos because of their falling into heresy. Can all these cases be qualified as schism? No, of course not.

In 1990 Patriarch Alexy, at a meeting with the clergy of the western eparchies of the UOC in the Pochaev Lavra, blessed them not to mention the name of the Patriarch during services if it caused rejection.

A disciplinary measure and a heart cry

The decision to cease the commemoration of Patriarch Kirill during services was not motivated by political considerations or fear of the authorities, but by pain for the Church, people, land and Motherland. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has always been with its people and has never divided the faithful according to political or national preferences. Likewise, it has always opposed military action in the Donbass, called on the parties to the conflict to resolve the problem peacefully, and, at the same time, stressed the need to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Church has not changed its principles even after 24 February 2022.

It is for this reason that the church people of Ukraine reacted with special pain to the lack of condemnation by the Patriarch of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. After all, if he is the "father" for Ukrainian believers, he should react as a father, not as a state official. It is clear that if he had spoken out against the war, this statement would not have stopped the "Iskanders" and "Tulips". But it would have stopped the desire of many believers of the UOC to distance themselves not only from the Patriarch but from the ROC as a whole. And where will the believers go? Either to the OCU or to another structure that has no canonical status.

The church people of Ukraine reacted with special pain to the lack of condemnation by the Patriarch of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. After all, if he is the "father" for Ukrainian believers, he should react as a father, not as a state official.

In addition, the position of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill on the war in Ukraine not only completely contradicts the position of the UOC but also discredits the Church in our country and causes a storm of negativity and aggression towards its believers. And very often the initiators of this aggression are representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. For example, MP Oksana Savchuk (Greek Catholic) has registered a bill to ban the UOC. In Horodok and Drohobych, Lviv Region, the authorities banned the UOC at the request of local Uniates. Over the past month, there have been several known cases of Uniates seizing UOC churches in western Ukraine.

In this context, the UOC believers cannot help but be bewildered by the active contacts of the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Catholic Church, whose faithful members are Greek Catholics. The faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are perplexed: what the ROC can have in common with the Vatican, which throughout the history of the Church has been trying to subdue our people to the Roman Throne. And, apparently, it has not abandoned such attempts so far.

Indeed, despite the ecumenical contacts of the ROC with Rome, the aggression of the Uniates against the UOC communities is only growing. This is the reason for many questions and bewilderment of our believers regarding such contacts.

***

The refusal to commemorate the name of the Primate of the Russian Church during divine services is dictated by pain for the people of Ukraine, as well as by the desire to preserve their flock in the canonical Church. Not because of fear of the authorities (for 30 years we have somehow become accustomed to constant pressure from them) but because of the fear of losing the souls of believers. And this is not a schism, this is a call to change the minds of those from whom we would like to have sympathy and understanding.

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Poll

The recommendations of the VR committee to hold worship services only in Ukrainian are:
legal requirement of the state
50%
unlawful interference in the affairs of the Church
50%
mere talk
0%
Total votes: 2

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