Syosset, New York, January 29, 2019
The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) released an archpastoral letter yesterday, January 28, concerning the Ukrainian crisis. The letter, signed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of All America and Canada and the rest of the bishops of the Holy Synod, seeks “to provide our clergy and faithful with some direction and perspective in dealing with the impact that these global issues are having on our local communities in North America,” while noting that it is the Ukrainian faithful who are suffering, first and foremost, and who are in need of our prayers.
The bishops support the call for a pan-Orthodox solution to the problem that has been made by so many other Churches, and express the hope that such a process will be initiated by Patriarch Bartholomew.
In particular, the Synod denies recognition of the Ukrainian schismatic church and continues to recognize only the canonical Church headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.
The Synod begins by noting that the immediate cause of the present crisis is the recent events in Ukraine, but that underlying disagreements about ecclesiology, territorial jurisdiction, and canonical principles are the broader cause.
The bishops also note that a solution to these problems can only come “from the conciliar and synodal process present in the Church’s tradition, a process that, in the face of the Ukrainian situation, has been advocated by others throughout the Orthodox Church and which our Holy Synod wholeheartedly endorses.”
The letter then recalls the jurisdictional and canonical problems present in America as well while noting that the canonical tradition should not be used as a weapon “wielded for conquest but a remedy to be applied for the healing of human souls.” Further, such disputes should not be resolved legally or by government interference, the Synod writes, but “in the spirit of humility and meekness offered by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Synod also recalls and reaffirms its support for Met. Tikhon’s letter of September 26 in which he also stressed the need for dialogue in resolving the Ukrainian crisis. Since then, as the letter notes, there have been significant developments: the Moscow Patriarchate’s breaking of communion with Constantinople, the creation by Constantinople of a new church “consisting of two schismatic groups,” and the granting of a tomos of autocephaly.
The bishops express their “deep sorrow and distress” over these developments, especially the rupturing of communion, and their “hope and fervent prayer” that a path to the restoration of communion will be found. Committed to unity, the bishops intend to maintain communion with all the Local Orthodox Churches, call on their clergy and faithful to pray for the suffering Ukrainian faithful, and express the hope that Constantinople will initiate a Church-wide discussion on primacy and synodality in union with the primates of the Orthodox Churches.
Further, “With respect to the Church in Ukraine, the Holy Synod of Bishops has determined at this time:
To continue to recognize and support Metropolitan Onufry as the canonical head and Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church;
To withhold, with several of our sister Churches, recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine;
That no changes be made to the diptychs, noting that the Orthodox Church in America has not been formally requested to make such changes;
That communion between clergy and faithful of all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in North America be maintained and that any specific questions concerning the concelebration of clergy be directed to the local diocesan bishop; and
That our clergy and faithful preserve an attitude of sobriety and restraint in any public discussions of these matters.”
The letter concludes by decrying the presence of schisms in the Church and calling for all the faithful to greatly value and defend the unity of the Church that the Lord calls us to.
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