Russian priest's "magical theology": Is the UOC really going to hell?
The ROC theologian Maximov believes the UOC is going to hell, one can’t take communion in its churches, while its services must be boycotted. Is he right or wrong?
On September 11, a sea of people prayed in the Derman Monastery of the UOC on the occasion of the glorification of St. Hierotheos. A little earlier, footage from the celebrations of the Assumption holiday in the Pochaiv and Kyiv-Pechersk Lavras, where there was an enormous number of believers from all over Ukraine, spread around the entire Orthodox world. All these people are children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. However, all of them are now heading to hell with their Primate.
Outrageous? But this is exactly what some representatives of the Russian Church say.
Is the UOC going to hell?
Patriarch Kirill and the Synod of the Russian Church commented on the decisions of the UOC Council on independence rather restrainedly and appropriately. Nevertheless, certain representatives of the Russian Church began to accuse the UOC of schism. Those are the Exarch for Africa, Metropolitan Leonid, a group of blogger priests, semi-church journalists. Yet, there is a person who came up with an entire theological concept, according to which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now moving to hell.
Maksimov: “I don’t recommend anyone to be their (UOC – Ed.) companions on the road to hell.”
Priest Georgiy Maximov is a very famous person. He is the head of the missionary department of the African Exarchate and a striking force to promote the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa.
But first and foremost, Fr. Georgiy is a missionary and theologian. His YouTube channel is very popular in the Orthodox environment. His statements on sensitive issues often become a guide for the laity and even the clergy. Maksimov's words seem to be always consistent and categorical. Including in the situation around the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He considers the Council of the UOC illegal, he is sure that His Beatitude Onuphry will face an ecclesiastical trial, and one cannot go to the temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: “This is the same as abroad, where there are no Orthodox parishes, and some go to Catholic parishes. I tell them no, no! You’d better pray at home, you will have more grace.”
At the same time, the priest is not embarrassed that no one has accused the UOC of a schism officially, that the heads of the Local Churches consider His Beatitude Onuphry to be the legitimate Primate. Maksimov has already delivered his verdict. He compares the priesthood and believers of the UOC with drug addicts, racketeers and murderers: “They tell me why I am critical if there was no church court. Imagine that you have a group of young people who gather in your yard and who are engaged in criminal activities: they are drug sellers, racketeers, etc. A simple question: when does a person become a murderer – when the court decides so or when he kills? Everyone knows the answer."
Fr. Georgiy believes that the main crime of the Primate of the UOC and the participants of the Council is the decision to stop the commemoration of the Patriarch. Thus, the UOC went into schism and tore itself away from Christ.
The theologian has only one but “deadly” argument for such a tough position – the 15th canon of the First-Second Council. It sounds like this:
“… So that in case any Presbyter or Bishop or Metropolitan dares to secede or apostatize from the communion of his own Patriarch, and fails to mention the latter’s name in accordance with custom duly fixed and ordained, in the divine Mystagogy, but, before a conciliar verdict has been pronounced and has passed judgment against him, creates a schism, the holy Council has decreed that this person shall be held an alien to every priestly function if only he be convicted of having committed this transgression of the law … .”
The rule is simple and clear: if you commemorate the patriarch, everything is fine; Based on it, Fr. Georgiy makes seemingly logical conclusions: “One can receive the Holy Gifts in those Churches where His Holiness Patriarch Kirill is commemorated, otherwise – cannot.
In Ukraine, they do not agree with this and cite many counterarguments against the “obligatory” commemoration, for example, that Patriarch Alexy also blessed not to commemorate him where this causes conflicts, and that the ROC itself during the “synodal period” for more than 200 years dod not have the patriarch at all, and others.
However, there is another argument, perhaps the most important one. This is the bedrock of the 15th canon and explains why it was adopted.
Why was the 15th canon adopted at the First-Second Council?
Councils in the history of the Church were not convened because of an excess of free time among the hierarchs. Each Council and each of its decisions is a response to specific problems and conflicts that arose among the Orthodox of that time. In turn, the First-Second Council of 861 in Constantinople is no exception.
Why did they adopt his 15th canon? Maybe, at that time there were autonomous Churches with their own primates in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which wanted complete independence? Like it is in Ukraine now? No, the situation was completely different back then.
The second half of the 9th century is the time when the patriarchs in Constantinople changed every few years, just at the whim of the emperors. Patriarch Ignatius, who took the throne in 847, was deposed in 858 for Photius to become Patriarch. In 867, Photius was deposed for Ignatius to be reinstated. In 880, Ignatius was deposed, and Photius became Patriarch again. Finally, in 886, Photius was deposed again.
That is, it was a time when part of the people commemorated one patriarch, others – another patriarch. The Orthodox were at enmity and even killed each other. For this reason, the First-Second Council was supposed to put an end to this by officially declaring for everyone one “correct” patriarch, in this case Photius. Accordingly, the supporters of Ignatius had to obey; otherwise they were recognized as schismatics and defrocked. Peace and order were finally restored in the Church.
Part of the people commemorated one patriarch, others – another patriarch. The Orthodox were at enmity and even killed each other. For this reason, the First-Second Council was supposed to put an end to this by officially declaring for everyone one “correct” patriarch.
If we project this situation to our days, then it should look like this: a new president comes to power in Russia, who “dismisses” Patriarch Kirill and appoints Metropolitan N as primate. Soon the power changes, and Patriarch Kirill is returned to the throne. Then again there is castling. The Church is chaos and enmity. And this is where the 15th rule comes into play. Everyone must reconcile and commemorate only one patriarch and obey this decision for the sake of peace in the Church. This is exactly what happened at the Council and why the 15th canon was adopted.
How does Fr. Georgiy interpret it? He claims that the presence or absence of grace in the Church depends on the mention of the patriarch’s name aloud: “The criterion is very simple: if the Patriarch is commemorated, one can go and receive the communion, and other sacraments. Otherwise – cannot."
Canonically ordained priests serve in any church of the UOC, and their Primate is the legally elected Metropolitan Onuphry of Kyiv. But Maximov's theology suggests a kind of magic. It turns out that if the priest utters the words “Patriarch Kirill” at the liturgy, then the Holy Spirit will descend on bread and wine, if the priest does not utter them, it will not descend.
Moreover, Fr. Georgiy even admits that the words about the patriarch can be pronounced in such a way that no one will hear them, but the procedure must be observed: “It is permissible when at the Great Entrance the priest begins to make a quiet commemoration, but the choir begins to sing loudly.”
Likewise, the theologian believes that the formula of commemoration of the patriarch by the Metropolitan of Kyiv is fundamentally important. If he pronounces the words "Great lord and father", everything is fine. If he remembers otherwise, it means a split with all its implications.
In the USSR, the children's book "Old Man Hottabych" was popular. There, the pioneer found an old jug and accidentally released the genie Hottabych, who was sitting inside, and the latter immediately began to work miracles. There was a procedure for the miracle – the genie had to pull out a hair from his beard and cast a spell. Everything worked, but only if the beard was dry. If it got wet, the miracle did not happen.
In our case, everything is identical. According to the position of the priest, a certain magic takes place at the service, which directly depends on the “spells” said there. If they are not pronounced, there is no miracle, and hence believers cannot go to such churches, and this non-attendance will be a sacrifice to God: “If there is no church nearby where the Patriarch is commemorated, you must pray at home, rather than go to the church where he is not commemorated, or watch online services. Non-going to the temple and non-communion is a sacrifice to the Lord, Who will reward you for this sacrifice.”
Consequently, if you, striving to become closer to Christ, has confessed and taken communion in your church all your life, now you cannot confess and take communion there. And all this for the sake of Christ.
Maksimov: “We are not doing this for the sake of the Patriarch himself or to please him, we are doing this for the sake of Christ.”
But does Christ really need all the clerics of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to mechanically pronounce the name of the Moscow Patriarch at services at a time when the war unleashed by the Russian Federation against Ukraine is raging at home?
A war taking away the lives of parishioners, priests, and their children. On August 30, the priest of the Bila Tserkva diocese, Yaroslav Nagai, buried his deceased son Vasyl. Earlier in the Volyn diocese, Fr. Mykola Yakovliuk buried his dead son Andriy. One can only imagine how hard it was for them to bury their children.
How possible is it for them to commemorate the patriarch, whose position on the war in Ukraine is known to everyone? Does Fr. Georgy Maksimov really set a condition for these priests: either they commemorate the patriarch or their sacraments are automatically graceless?
But can Christ make his children choose? Moreover, can He have such "automatic" rules?
"You have to tolerate it, my beauty, whether you like it or not"*
(*paraphrased words from the song of the Russian band, which were addressed by Vladimir Putin to Volodymyr Zelensky with regard to the obligation of Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements – Trans. Note)
In 2018, the Phanar declared Ukraine its canonical territory, and members of the UOC – its subordinates. Moreover, no one was interested in Ukrainians whether they agreed with this or not. The Phanar quoted the canons and stated that the UOC was obliged to obey. At that time, the Russian Church was very indignant about such behavior and compared the Phanar with a feudal lord who treats Ukrainians like serfs. Father Georgiy spoke about the inadmissibility of formal references to the ancient rules and "false interpretation of the canons", and also resented the Phanar's attempts to sacralize the figure of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
He also accused the Church of Constantinople of immorality: “By its actions, it rather illustrates the disgusting pagan image of a mother devouring her children. So who will blame the children for their decision to leave such a 'mother'?"
It is hard not to draw parallels in this connection.
Then, in 2018, a very revealing dispute arose between the Phanar and the Russian Orthodox Church, which should have been commemorated in Kyiv after 1686, when the Kyiv Metropolis was transferred from Constantinople to Moscow. The Phanar claimed that the Patriarch of Constantinople had to be commemorated first, and therefore Kyiv belongs to the Phanar. In Moscow, this was vehemently denied and argued that it was necessary to commemorate only Moscow, therefore, ecclesiastically Kyiv belongs to the Russian Church.
It is difficult to say whose arguments are more convincing here. But it is impossible not to notice that in this discussion of the “chiefs” of the Kievan Church, the role of extras, if not serfs, was assigned to the Ukrainian orthodox Church. Moreover, if the Phanar is right, then, according to Maximov's theory, all the sacraments in the Kyiv Metropolis since 1686 have been graceless. Simply because the “correct” patriarch was not commemorated there.
Is the vertical of power in the Church really sacred?
Until recently, the system of relations in the Local Churches seemed simple and understandable: in every Church there is a Primate to whom everyone obeys. However, a lot has changed in recent years. The four Greek Churches entered into communion with the OCU, where the head and the “hierarchy” are lay people without priesthood. But some of the dioceses of the Greek and Cypriot Churches refused to recognize Dumenko and consider him a layman. In fact, the Local Churches today are not a single entity, but a collection of dioceses, where each can make independent decisions, right down to who is considered part of the Church of Christ and who is not. It is difficult to say whether this is good or bad, but these are today's realities.
These realities were also recognized in the ROC, retaining Eucharistic communion with those bishops of Greece and Cyprus who did not recognize Dumenko, and breaking with everyone else.
All this does not mean that the Church has changed, no. This means that we may be returning to our origins, when a separate "church" was a Christian community headed by a bishop. Saint Ignatius of Antioch said: “Where there is a bishop, there is the Church!” And even if today the bishop heads a diocese instead of community, this diocese can be considered as a completely independent structure, a separate “Local Church”.
What about the patriarchs? This is only an administrative "add-on" needed for management and coordination. Nowhere in the Holy Tradition and canons of the Church is there any mention of any special sacredness of the patriarchal power.
Archbishop John (Rennetau) of Dubna says that a patriarch is only a bishop among bishops, whose function is to convene Synods and Councils, as well as “to report to everyone (bishops, clergy and believers) about the answers given at this Synod or Council” .
Therefore, we cannot say in any way that the commemoration of a particular patriarch takes place “for the sake of Christ”, we cannot say that without such a commemoration grace disappears from churches, and if believers stop confessing and taking communion there, then this is their “sacrifice to God”.
But the main thing is not even that. Father Georgiy Maksimov calls for the fulfillment of the law. Even the most distant person from the Church knows the expression “the Sabbath is for a man, not a man for the Sabbath,” he knows that the Pharisees condemned Christ for healing on an “inappropriate” day.
The highest law for a Christian is the law of love. Is there Christian love in Maksimov's calls not to receive communion in the churches of the UOC, to boycott services, and not to obey the decisions of its Primate and the hierarchy? The answer is obvious.
The Ukrainian and Russian Churches, the Ukrainian and Russian peoples are going through the most difficult period in their history, when every careless word can have catastrophic consequences. Now more than ever we need to work for unity, rather than division. Any doctor knows that in their line of work, one must first bear in mind the principle of “do no harm”, and priests are obliged to remember it all the more.
Someday the war in Ukraine will end, peoples will reconcile, enmity and hatred will dissipate. Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians are brothers in the one Ecumenical Church. They are brothers, not bosses and subordinates.
We do not know in what administrative form the Church will exist on our earth, we only know that it will definitely exist. Christ said about us in his prayer to the Father: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Therefore, the task of each of us is to reinforce this unity, rather than sunder it.