The healing of Macedonian schism and the Ukrainian situation

Under the leadership of Patriarch Porfirije, the Macedonian schism was healed. Photo: UOJ

The theme with the recognition of the Macedonian Church by Phanar received its unexpected continuation: the Serbian Orthodox Church announced the healing of the schism.

On May 16, 2022, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Patriarchate announced the healing of the Macedonian schism and the restoration of unity with the Macedonian Church.

Screenshot of the official website of the SOC

The key takeaways of the Communiqué are as follows:

  1. The Macedonian Church returns to its autonomous status within the Serbian Patriarchate, which was granted to it in 1959.
  2. Full canonical and Eucharistic communion is restored between the Serbian and Macedonian Churches.
  3. Autonomous status is only a stage on the way to the status of full autocephaly, which is "not only possible, but also expedient, legitimate and realistic."

The future autocephaly of the Macedonian Church appears to be a settled issue, since the Communiqué contains the phrase “new sister Church”, which is used in the context of the future MOC. The thesis of autonomous status per se is split into several subparagraphs:

First, it is proclaimed that the Church will be guided only by its own ecclesiastical considerations, rather than by the geopolitical requirements. Literally, it sounds like this: “The Serbian Orthodox Church will be guided solely and exclusively by ecclesiastical-canonical and ecclesiastical-pastoral principles, criteria and norms, without concern for ‘real political’, ‘geopolitical’, ‘ecclesiastical political’ and other considerations, and will not allow someone else's influence or pressure."

The future autocephaly of the Macedonian Church appears to be a settled issue.

What do these considerations lurk? It is obvious that “real political” and “geopolitical” considerations are nothing but the position of the authorities of North Macedonia and the intrigues of Phanar, while “ecclesiastical political” are the claims of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the primacy in Orthodoxy. In this case, it is expressed in the assertion that only the Phanar and no one else can grant autocephaly.

Secondly, the autocephalous (in the future) MOC will not be limited either in its activities within North Macedonia or in serving Macedonian parishes abroad. This contrasts sharply with the “autocephaly” proposed by Phanar: all foreign parishes and monasteries pass to the jurisdiction of the Phanariots, and some kind of stauropegia can be formed inside the state, which are directly subordinate to the Phanar.

Thirdly, the Macedonian Church must settle the issue of its name with the Greek and other Local Churches on its own. Recall that the Greeks react very zealously to any mention of the word "Macedonia", both in the name of the neighboring state and in the name of the Church. A few years ago, Macedonia had to change its name under pressure from Greece to North Macedonia. In the aforementioned decision of the Synod of the Church of Constantinople, the MOC was recognized with the name "Church of Ohrid". The Serbian Patriarchate made it clear it would accept any name the MOC adopted following its own negotiations with all interested parties. By the way, on its official website, the MOC calls itself "The Macedonian Orthodox Church - Ohrid Archdiocese."

Struggle for the "Mother Church" status

The healing of the Macedonian schism was preceded by some events in which everything developed at lightning speed.

On May 9, 2022, the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the Macedonian Church, stating that they “heal the wound of the schism,” and called on the Serbian Church to resolve some “administrative issues” with the Macedonians. A few days before that, on May 6, 2022, Bishop Fotije of Zvornic and Tuzla (SOC) reported that in early May, representatives of the Serbian and Macedonian Churches held negotiations in Nis, and Patriarch Porfirije participated in them. These were the first negotiations after a long break. Such activity was not entirely clear then: either Phanar decided to play ahead of the curve, or, on the contrary, the Serbian bishops decided to make concessions to the Macedonians, not wanting to repeat “a la OCU” scenario, which the Phanariots had already come up with.

Now the situation is completely clear. Phanar was informed about the upcoming healing of the Macedonian schism within the SOC and decided to seize the initiative at the last moment, granting the Macedonian Church pseudo-autocephaly from its own hands. Notably, to the credit of the Macedonians, they did not succumb to the provocation and continued negotiations with the SOC, which ended up with the Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC) sending an act to the Serbian Church, whereby the MOC returns to the Serbian Patriarchate in the status of the widest possible autonomy.

In general, the events around the healing of the Macedonian schism, and in particular the actions of Phanar, indicate that there is a serious struggle in Orthodoxy on the issue of granting autocephaly to those church structures that wish to receive such a status. Common sense suggests that autocephaly is granted by the Local Church, which incorporates an ecclesiastical structure (an autonomous Church, a metropolitan district, or simply a collection of dioceses) seeking autocephaly. However, the Patriarchate of Constantinople strongly opposes this order, because it challenges the concept of the Phanar’s exclusive position in Orthodoxy, which the Phanariots have been pushing on for a hundred years now.

Recall that the existing corpus of canonical rules of the Church does not contain norms regulating the procedure for granting autocephaly. When discussing this procedure in preparation for the Crete Council of 2016, all Local Churches came to the conclusion that autocephaly should be granted with the consent of the Church, which includes the structure that wishes to receive autocephaly. Moreover, this act should be recognized by all other Churches. However, this issue stalled due to controversies regarding the signatures in the Tomos on autocephaly and was eventually removed from the agenda of the Cretan Council.

According to the Phanariot concept of "the first without equals", the granting of autocephaly should include the following elements.

Firstly, only the Patriarchate of Constantinople can be the “Mother Church”, i.e. grant autocephaly to any structures, regardless of which Local Church they belong to. Anyone can initiate autocephaly, but the constitutive act, which, in fact, is the basis of autocephalous status, can only be issued by the Phanar.

Secondly, all Local Churches, except for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, can carry out their activities strictly within the state borders of the countries in which they are located. All foreign Diasporas of any origin should be subordinated only to the Phanar. For example, in the Tomos of the OCU, it is written in black and white that all Ukrainian parishes in all countries, except Ukraine, must go under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. The Phanar tried to impose the same order on the Macedonian Church. After all, the Macedonians have about 800 parishes in their Diaspora, which is a lot!

All newly created autocephalies are considered by the Phanar to be second-class and dependent on it.

Thirdly, the Phanar considers all newly created autocephalies to be second-class and dependent on it. It positions itself as "the first without equal", and the Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch Churches as first-class autocephalies given they were once part of the Pentarchy system. The exclusivity of the Phanar is manifested in the right to convene pan-Orthodox meetings, the right to a final trial, the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other Local Churches, and so on. In addition, the newly created autocephalous Churches, according to the Phanar, should commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople as their head and recourse to him on important issues.

Macedonia and the Ukrainian situation: an example to follow?

The precedent of healing the Macedonian schism raises a natural question: is it possible to resolve the church schism in Ukraine according to this pattern? To answer this question, it is necessary to pay attention to the difference between these situations.

Almost the entire "episcopate" of the OCU are people who were ordained by the persons without any episcopal rank.

The most significant difference is that almost the entire “episcopate” of the OCU is people who were ordained by the persons without any episcopal rank. Epifaniy Dumenko, Eustratiy Zoria, Mikhail Zinkevich and many others were "ordained" by Mikhail Antonovich Denisenko (Filaret), the former Metropolitan of Kyiv. But at the time of these “consecrations,” Filaret was not only not a bishop, but he was not even a member of the Orthodox Church, since he was under anathema. His anathematized status was recognized by all the Local Churches, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The former head of the UAOC Makariy Maletich was never even a bishop: he left the canonical Church in the status of a priest.

Thus, the actual absence of consecrations with the “episcopate” of the OCU is the main obstacle not only to unification with this structure, but also to its recognition by the Local Orthodox Churches, as their primates have repeatedly stated.

Unlike the OCU, there is apostolic succession in the Macedonian Church; its entire hierarchy is legal, although they were in canonical isolation. The Council of the Serbian Church in 1967 stated that the MOC hierarchy "arbitrarily and non-canonically separated from its Mother Church to establish a schismatic organization", which is why the SOC decided to break canonical communion with the Macedonian hierarchy. The following year, 1968, the Synod of the SOC brought the Macedonian bishops to an ecclesiastical court, but the proceedings were suspended in 1970 and, according to reports, have not been resumed. During all rounds of negotiations between the SOC and the MOC, the issue of non-canonicity of the consecrations of the Macedonian hierarchs was never raised.

Presumably, the UOC could agree to negotiations on unification with the OCU, subject to the re-ordination of its "clergy" from the canonical bishops.

Presumably, the UOC could agree to negotiations on unification with the OCU, subject to the re-ordination of its "clergy" from the canonical bishops. However, firstly, it is unlikely and secondly, it is inexpedient.

It is unlikely because neither the OCU nor the Patriarchate of Constantinople will agree to this, which, whatever one may say, is the highest authority for the OCU. In the event of re-ordination, the “hierarchs” of the OCU will have to admit to their believers that they have been teaching them invalid sacraments all this time, while the Phanariotes will have to account how they could concelebrate the Divine Liturgy with the persons who do not have any valid ordination.

However, it is much more important that the top leadership of the OCU declares its desire to unite with the Ukrainian Catholics of the Orthodox rite, i.e. actually go to the union. For example, the authoritative “hierarch” of the OCU, “Metropolitan” Mikhail Zinkevich of Lutsk and Volyn, said the following in October 2021: “We want to see a united church, where there will be neither the Moscow Patriarchate, nor Greek Catholics, and there will be no OCU, there will be one big Ukrainian church." In March 2022, he confirmed his desire to unite with the Greek Catholics, saying that another Tomos was anticipated by the OCU for a single "church" that would include all Orthodox denominations and Uniates. The head of the OCU, Sergei (Epifaniy) Dumenko, stated back in 2019 that the key to uniting the OCU and the UGCC lies not in Kyiv, but in Rome and Constantinople.

The top leadership of the OCU declares its desire to unite with the Ukrainian Catholics of the Orthodox rite, i.e. actually go to the union.

In the same 2019, in an interview with the BBC on January 11, Phanar Archbishop Daniel (Zelinsky) said, "the creation of the OCU is a certain prerequisite for the dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholic Church and the search for ways to understand them." In addition, in response to a clarifying question from a BBC correspondent about the possibility of uniting the OCU with the Uniates, Zelinsky said directly and bluntly, "I am sure this is quite possible."

The Uniates also keep abreast with such rhetoric. For example, the Uniate Metropolitan Boris Gudziak said, “In practice, we must move towards this unity (OCU and UGCC – Ed.). This is the real thing, not sky-high theories. His Beatitude Sviatoslav very clearly and joyfully spoke out with support, saying that we are extending a brotherly hand in order to walk together towards this unity." In addition, Ivan Datsko, President of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies of the Ukrainian Catholic University, even specified the timing of such a union: “I wish we could restore full communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches until the 25th year. This is our main objective,” and added that it should be implemented in Ukraine. You can read more about the steps towards unification in the article "OCU and UGCC: 7 steps towards a new union."

Therefore, when discussing a possible merger with the OCU, one must ask the question: why? Unite in order to betray Orthodoxy together with the OCU and then go to the union? Or, in the case of such a more than probable unification, to be divided again?

***

We should rejoice for our Serbian and Macedonian brothers who managed to heal the schism. However, it is hardly appropriate to draw a parallel with the Ukrainian situation – everything is much more complicated here. Moreover, from the point of view of human logic, the situation with the unification of Orthodox Ukrainians is almost hopeless. Nevertheless, as Christ said to the apostles, "What is impossible with man is possible with God" (Luke 18:27).

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