Legalisation of "Macedonians": Phanar continues to split Orthodoxy
We analyze the recent decisions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople aimed at splitting Orthodoxy and establishing the doctrine of "the first without equals".
On 9 May 2022, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognised the Macedonian Church and entered into eucharistic communion with its "clergy". In doing so, the Phanariots declared that their decision "heals the wound of the schism" and called on the Serbian Church to resolve "administrative issues" with the schismatics in northern Macedonia. They intend to call the legalised structure the "Church of Ohrid", similar to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. This name implies the idea that the jurisdiction of the "Church of Ohrid" will extend exclusively to the territory of North Macedonia, and its parishes in the diaspora will be subordinated to the Phanar.
Historical background: who the Macedonian schismatics are.
They claim that they trace their history back to the Archdiocese of Ohrid, which existed in the XI-XVIII centuries. In 1019, as a result of the conquest of Bulgaria by Byzantium, the independent Bulgarian Church, which had the status of autocephaly and the patriarchate, was abolished and the Archdiocese of Ohrid arose in its place with the status of autonomy as part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Its canonical territory included Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania. Later, when the political situation changed, the Churches in these countries separated from the Archdiocese of Ohrid and regained (or acquired) their autonomous or autocephalous status. In 1767, the Turkish sultan abolished the Archdiocese of Ohrid, subordinating it to the Patriarchate of Constantinople as the Metropolis of Prespa. In 1913, the episcopal see in Ohrid became part of the Serbian Orthodox Church and in 1915 – the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, in 1919 – again Serbian, in 1941 – again Bulgarian, and from 1945 until today it has been part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This frequent change of jurisdictions provides certain grounds for claims to the Archdiocese of Ohrid by both Serbia and Bulgaria, as well as by the Phanar.
After the Second World War, the Macedonian authorities lobbied for the establishment of an autonomous Macedonian Orthodox Church with its centre in Ohrid, which the Serbian Patriarchate opposed. An agreement could not be reached, and in 1967 the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of the Republic of Macedonia was proclaimed. It hasn’t been recognised by any Local Churches, including Constantinople, until recently.
In 1998, Serbian Church representatives and Macedonian schismatics entered into a four-year negotiation process culminating in the Nis Agreement, which gave the Macedonian Church (MOC) broad autonomy within the Serbian Church. However, the Macedonian political authorities did not allow the MOC hierarchs to approve the Nis Agreement at the Council. After this a significant number of Macedonian believers led by Metropolitan Jovan (Vraniškovski) of Veleš and the majority of monastics, left the schism and restored communion with the Serbian Patriarch. Organizationally, they formed the Archdiocese of Ohrid, which is not recognized by the authorities of North Macedonia (the modern name of Macedonia), while the schismatic MOC enjoys their full support.
In 2005, the secular authorities of the Republic of Macedonia asked Patriarch Bartholomew to recognise the Macedonian Church but were refused. In 2009, the MOC declared the adoption of the historical name "Archdiocese of Ohrid" and became known as "Macedonian Orthodox Church – Archdiocese of Ohrid". In 2017, it made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain autocephaly from the hands of the Bulgarian Church.
In 2019, an international scandal erupted. Russian pranksters published a recording of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev saying he was ready to bribe Patriarch Bartholomew for the Tomos of MOC's autocephaly. Zaev also said at the time that the Macedonian government is already working with Patriarch Bartholomew on the issue of receiving autocephaly. Also, he said, former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was involved in the process.
And now the recognition of the MOC by the Phanar has become a fait accompli. And just a few days before that, there were reports about negotiations with the Macedonians of the Serbian Patriarchate, which involved Patriarch Porfirije. On 6 May 2022, Bishop Photius of Zvornitsa and Tuzla (SOC) said during a sermon that the Serbian Church and the Macedonian Church had resumed dialogue after a long break.
Surely, this has become known in the Phanar and now we "have what we have".
What does Constantinople gain from this decision?
It is hardly worth mentioning the Zaev bribery scandal. The main benefits seem to be three.
- The blow to the Serbian Church, which not only did not recognize the OCU but also actively criticized the Phanar for legalizing the Ukrainian split.
- Establishment of the "Ecumenical Throne" in Orthodoxy as "the first without equals".
- Receiving Macedonian dioceses and parishes abroad.
The reaction of the Serbian Patriarchate to the recognition of the Macedonian schismatics is not yet known, but there is already a reaction from the Serbian media. "Bartholomew divides Orthodoxy", "Schism in Orthodoxy", and "Ecumenical Patriarch also recognizes Montenegrin schismatics" are the headlines of some newspaper publications in Serbia. They say that the Phanar had not previously reacted to the desire of the Macedonian schismatics to enter into Eucharistic communion with him. But after information about the negotiations between the Serbian Church and the Macedonian Church, he urgently recognized the schismatics.
It can be assumed that the position of the Serbian Patriarchate will also be negative since back in November 2021, the vicar of Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia, Bishop Anthony (Pantelić) of Moravia, said that if the Patriarch of Constantinople single-handedly decides on the “autocephaly” of schismatics in Montenegro or Macedonia, this could provoke a break with the Serbian Church.
If the break-up of the Serbian Patriarchate with the Phanar does occur, the split in Orthodoxy will worsen and become almost irreversible. The current decision was taken by the Phanar without any consultation, not to mention the consent not only of the Serbian Church but also of the other Local Churches. In doing so, the Phanar continues to promote its "first without equals" theory, according to which the Patriarch of Constantinople occupies a dominant position in the Church and can make decisions without consulting anyone.
The latter is in line with the Phanarian position that all Orthodox diasporas, wherever they are and from whoever they come from, must obey Constantinople. In this case, the Macedonian "catch" is quite big – there are three metropolises of the MOC outside of North Macedonia: European, Australian-New Zealand and the Australian-Sydney. They include about 800 parishes out of 2000 of the entire Macedonian Church.
However, the Phanar was enriched not only by the Macedonian parishes but also by the communities of the Kyiv Patriarchate.
Ukrainian parishes in Australia
On May 9, 2022, the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate confirmed the "transfer" of parishes and communities of the UOC-KP to the jurisdiction of its Australian Archdiocese. This transfer itself was made on March 31, 2022, by the Australian Archdiocese, announcing the following: "Within the canonical boundaries of the Holy Archdiocese of Australia, there are Ukrainian communities, which until recently have belonged to the so-called and never canonically recognised "Kyiv Patriarchate".
We are talking about the communities that joined the UOC-KP according to the decree of Patriarch Filaret Denisenko of March 22, 2022, which was reported on the official website of the UOC-KP: "By the decree of His Holiness Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv and All Rus-Ukraine of March 22, 2022, Archimandrite Nektarios (Alexandratos), Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand, along with parishes and priests, were admitted to the UOC-KP.
The Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand includes several communities with temples and cultural centres in Australia, two communities with temples in New Zealand, one monastery in Vietnam and one in India."
The Phanar considers Australia and New Zealand as its canonical territory. However, Nectarios Alexandratos himself does not belong to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Constantinople in Australia, although he was a former cleric of the Greek Church.
The following points should be noted here.
First, it remains to be seen which side the Australian authorities will take in the matter of the transfer of property rights. It is quite possible that there will be court proceedings in which the Phanar will be forced to declare something similar to what it stated about Ukraine, namely that all Ukrainian parishes belong to the OCU, even if they are unaware of it.
Secondly, the Phanar's decision once again reminds us that the OCU does not have the right to take care of Ukrainians abroad. This prerogative is reserved by the Phanar. The reminder is very unpleasant for the OCU, but what the Phanar is right about is that this state of affairs is written in the Tomos about the "autocephaly" of the PCU.
"The Autocephalous Church of Ukraine (OCU – Ed.) has no canonical jurisdiction in the diaspora, in accordance with the Tomos of the Autocephalous Church," the Fanar statement reads. This, by the way, once again shows that this "autocephaly" is not real and that in fact, the OCU is subordinate to the Phanar in many important matters.
And thirdly, Filaret in Ukraine is now doing exactly the same thing as Patriarch Bartholomew in the Phanar: collecting under his "omophorion" schismatics of all stripes and shades. Everything is identical and ridiculously simple: the Phanar legalized schismatics of North Macedonia, and Filaret legalized schismatics of Australia and New Zealand. And a little earlier Filaret had "consecrated" as "bishop" a certain Chrysostomos Kallis, a schismatic from Greece.
By the way, the UOC-KP has already responded to the Phanar. "Bishop of Philadelphia" Bohdan Zgoba said that the communities of the Kyiv Patriarchate abroad do not recognise the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople over them.
Confusion about Filaret's "canonicity"
As part of the struggle between the Phanar and the UOC-KP for parishes in Australia, the topic of Filaret Denysenko's "canonicity" or "gracefulness" has continued.
Recall that until 2018, the Patriarchate of Constantinople considered both Filaret and the UOC-KP to be schismatics lacking grace and excommunicated from the Church. But on 11 October 2018, the Phanar decided to "accept and consider petitions for the conversion of Filaret Denisenko, Makary Maletich and their followers" and decided to "canonically reinstate them to their hierarchical or priestly ranks, and to restore their faithful to communion with the Church".
At the same time, the Phanariots did not even bother to explain how the “clergy” of the UOC-KP got the grace of episcopacy retroactively. This fact was pointed out by representatives of many Local Churches, in particular, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who stated in March 2019: "All the time Mr Filaret was deposed and anathematized, he performed non-canonical ordinances that were not valid Sacraments. Therefore, the consecrations performed by him are invalid, empty, and devoid of Divine Grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. Among others are the consecutive ordinations to deacon, priest and finally to bishop of his secretary Sergei Dumenko, now Metropolitan Epifaniy. <...> We find it difficult to understand how the invalid and empty 'by oikonomia' becomes spirit-bearing, how actions that constituted clear blasphemy against the Holy Spirit <...> are recognized retrospectively 'by oikonomia'". But Phanar responded to all this in the style of "We are big bosses, we know best".
In the same decision on the "transfer" of the UOC-KP communities to the Australian Archdiocese of May 9, 2022, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople stated that it had never recognized Filaret Denisenko as the "Patriarch of Kyiv", nor the existence of the Kyiv Patriarchate. Nevertheless, the document refers to Filaret as a metropolitan.
But the Australian Archdiocese itself indirectly denied Filaret the episcopal rank, saying that the sacraments he administers are invalid: "Filaret, as a self-proclaimed 'Patriarch,' is not recognized by any canonical Orthodox Church, nor, of course, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Therefore his administrative acts and the sacraments he administers are invalid and do not exist for the Orthodox Church everywhere. The same applies to Nektarios Alexandratos, who poses as a clergyman" (Statement of the Archdiocese of Australia dated 31 March 2022).
To this, Nektarios Alexandratos quite reasonably replied: "We categorically object to Patriarch Filaret being 'uncanonical'. The 2018 Proclamation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is very clear and thorough: the Ukrainian Church and the hierarch Filaret, whom we represent in Australia, are canonical by decree of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Synod." And he is absolutely right. It seems that the Phanar itself no longer understands whether Filaret is "grace-filled" or not. In a short time, his status in the eyes of the Church of Constantinople has changed several times:
- From 1992 to 2018, Filaret is not a bishop.
- From 2018 to 2022, Filaret is a bishop.
- From 31 March to May 2022, Filaret is not a bishop (according to the Archdiocese of Australia, his sacraments are invalid).
- From 9 May 2022, Filaret is a bishop (in the decision of the Synod of the Phanar, he is named a metropolitan).
It already sounds more like an anecdote. But, let us recall, these are all statements of the "Ecumenical Throne".
Our Lord Jesus Christ once said: "Either recognise the tree as good and its fruit as good or recognise the tree as bad and its fruit as bad, for the tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33).
Firstly, the legalisation of the Macedonians is a blow to the Serbian Church as well as to the entire Orthodoxy. The schism is deepening, and the chances of healing it are becoming increasingly elusive. The actions of the Phanar are nothing but a manifestation of the heresy of Constantinopolitan papism or the "first without equals" theory. Without a denunciation of this heresy, it is no longer possible to force the Patriarchate of Constantinople to admit its wrongdoing and reverse the relevant decisions. When the Phanar legalised Ukrainian schismatics in 2018, it was warned that it was opening Pandora's box. And so it happened: now all the schismatics in all the Local Churches have been allowed to travel to the Phanar for recognition. Next in line, presumably, is the recognition of the schismatics in Montenegro, which is very likely in light of the change in government there.
Secondly, the approval of the "transfers" of UOC-KP communities in Australia to the Archdiocese of Australia (which Domenko considers his own) reminds us that the OCU's "autocephaly" promoted in Ukraine is flawed because the OCU is unable to provide care for Ukrainians overseas and is forced to give it to the Greeks.
Thirdly, because of the confusion with the recognition of some protégés of Filaret and the non-recognition of others, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Phanar made a gross and criminal mistake when it retrospectively recognized the "grace" of the Filaret’s "ordinations". Now the Constantinople Patriarchate and those who support it have no argument to counteract their schismatics who come to Filaret for "chrismations".
On the whole, if we compare the present situation in Orthodoxy with the times of, say, ten years ago, we cannot but notice that everything has changed. Lack of fraternity, mutual criticism and even enmity between the Churches have become common practice, as well as the chaos of the "canonicity" of ordinations, which has spread from Ukraine to the rest of the world.
There is only one way out of this situation – to reverse the decision to recognize Filaret and his followers as "reunited with the Church," to repent of concelebrating with those who are not consecrated and to declare that their return to the Church should take place through repentance, and receiving ordination - through canonical consecration. It sounds extremely unlikely today, even fantastic, but there is no other way. Anything else is an ostrich's pose, not a real solution to the problem.