Athens, January 10, 2019
Granting autocephaly to Ukrainian schismatics was an “unlawful, anti-canonical, and divisive” action on the part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, done under “pressure from Western non-Church circles,” the Greek theologian Fr. Theodore Zisis commented to RIA-Novosti on January 6.
Patriarch Bartholomew brought his autocephaly project to its climax on January 6, unilaterally granting a tomos of autocephaly to “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, the primate of the Ukrainian schismatics, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
The granting of the tomos was done “improperly,” with Constantinople “having no right” to do so, Fr. Theodore said.
“The Ukrainian Church has been in the Russian Church for three centuries already. The Ecumenical (Constantinople) Patriarchate had no right to invade if there was no request about it from the Ukrainian Church,” Fr. Theodore explained, having previously laid out the historical and canonical argument for the integrity of the canonical territory of the Russian Church, including the Ukrainian Church.
“The canonical Ukrainian Church, led by [Metropolitan] Onuphry, did not ask for such independence to be granted,” the popular Greek theologian continued.
The appeal for autocephaly came from President Poroshenko with the backing of the Ukrainian Parliament and the hierarchs of the two formerly-existing schismatic structures.
Fr. Theodore also made the important point that even before 2016’s Council of Crete, where the method for granting autocephaly was ultimately dropped from the final agenda, all Orthodox Churches had agreed on how autocephaly should be provided, with a request coming from a canonical Orthodox Church, not schismatics, being the first step. In the case of Ukraine, that means His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine should have been the one to request autocephaly, though no such request was made, Fr. Theodore noted.
“Now all of this has been rejected, and, unfortunately, the Ecumenical Patriarchate shows an inclination towards primacy like the Pope of Rome. He had no regard for anyone and did not make contact with the leaders of the other autocephalous Churches. If all the steps were undertaken, if the canonical Church had requested it and the request was accepted, all the heads of the autocephalous Churches should be informed,” Fr. Theodore explained.
“The Ecumenical Patriarch did not consider this but himself, heretically and unlawfully (if to use a political term), proceeded to grant autocephaly to a schism—because the schism was not removed—a schism is removed by the one who declared it. The schism of Philaret and Makary should have been removed by the Russian Church. For the Russian Church and for the rest of the Orthodox Churches, today’s so-called ‘Church of Ukraine’ is still schismatic,” the retired theological professor noted.
As pointed out on the site Orthodox Synaxis, Pat. Bartholomew has explicitly acknowledged that in the current case with Ukraine he is side-stepping the agreed upon procedure for granting autocephaly and instead acting unilaterally.
Fr. Theodore believes that all of the Slavic Churches “will stand with the Russian Church,” while the Greek Churches “will find themselves in a very tough position” because there will be heavy pressure upon them to accept the Ukrainian nationalist church.
The position of the Polish and Serbian Churches against recognition of the new Ukrainian structure was already known before Fr. Theodore gave his interview, and since then the Antiochian Church’s renewed call for a pan-Orthodox council on the matter has been publicized, and His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus’ refusal to commemorate “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, the Ukrainian schismatic primate, has been reported.
The Greek Holy Synod recently discussed the matter but made no decision itself, instead referring the issue for the broader Bishops’ Council.
Fr. Theodore also noted that the provision of autocephaly is more a political than ecclesial process. “It is well known that this all happened due to pressure from Western non-Church circles that want to deprive Ukraine of ecclesiastical independence,” he explained.
No attempt to hide the U.S. State Department’s involvement in the autocephaly process has been made by either the Ukrainian or American side.
“Ukraine’s political dependence is the goal of America, Europe, and NATO. Now they also want Ukraine’s ecclesiastical dependence. The Ecumenical Patriarch should not participate in these games,” Fr. Theodore believes.
In conclusion, Fr. Theodore expressed his hope that the Russian Orthodox Church will make decisions that will fix the situation and lead to Constantinople reexamining its position, and that “the other Orthodox Churches will be on top of the situation and not agree with the unlawful, anti-canonical, and divisive actions of granting autocephaly to schismatics in Ukraine.”
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