Lovech, Bulgaria, October 15, 2018
The decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, announced on Thursday, October 11, does not correspond to the canons of the Church, and the problems arising from it must be discussed at a pan-Orthodox Council, His Eminence Metropolitan Gabriel of Lovech of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said in an interview with TASS on Friday.
“I did have time to get deeply acquainted with the decision of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but it’s already clear that it is an uncanonical decision. Only that Church which imposed the punishment, that is the Russian Orthodox Church, can remove the punishment from the schismatics. Now a precedent might be made and all the schismatics of the world can receive forgiveness without correction, but this is in no way beneficial,” the Bulgarian hierarch said.
“Church discipline is imposed for someone to repent and correct himself, but if nothing is required for it to be abolished, then there is no benefit from the discipline,” Met. Gabriel added.
The Bulgarian metropolitan has consistently stood against schism. In an interview with the Information and Education Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church last year, he commented, “There is no grace of God in schism. And without the grace of God there can be no Church. People must return to the canonical Church, where there is the grace of God and where man can be saved. Schism is a very harmful and pernicious phenomenon. The basis of any split is pride. This is the only way—there can be no other, in my opinion.”
Speaking with TASS, he added that he believes it is necessary to gather a pan-Orthodox Council to resolve the problems that have arisen, “otherwise things will go very badly and a schism will occur in the Church. Lord save us from this,” added Met. Gabriel.
He also stressed that only one Church in Ukraine is recognized—“that which is headed by Metropolitan Onuphry.”
At its October 4 session, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Synod created a commission to further investigate the Ukrainian issue, while Met. Gabriel, along with Their Eminences Metropolitans John of Varna and Daniil of Vidin also voted at that time for the Bulgarian Holy Synod to call for a pan-Orthodox Council.
“Who will take responsibility for all those people who lives will be threatened in Ukraine when they stand up to defend their holy places—churches and monasteries—in the event that their registration for the canonical Orthodox Church, to which they belong, is canceled, which Ukrainian politicians openly speak about?” the bishops ask in their statement.
The Bulgarian hierarchs also argue that the Ecumenical Patriarch’s incursion into the canonical territory of another Local Church has created “a problem that cannot be solved between the two patriarchates.”
Considering the strain in relations between the two patriarchates, if the dispute deepens, “it will move from the current local schism in Ukraine to a schism on a global scale within Holy Orthodoxy, and we cannot agree that the continued unilateral actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine is the way to overcome the Church schism there,” the bishops write.
In agreement with the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Churches, Mets. Gabriel, John, and Daniil also affirm that “the Patriarchate of Constantinople has no right to enter into foreign canonical territory and begin communications with Ukrainian schismatics, ignoring the only canonical hierarchy in Ukraine.”
“An authoritative solution to the Church dispute in Ukraine can be achieved only within the framework of a pan-Orthodox discussion and the convocation of a pan-Orthodox Council,” the metropolitans emphasize, noting that the Holy Synod of the Antiochian Patriarchate also recently proposed to convene a Synaxis of the primates.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland has made the same call.
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