Mt. Athos, February 12, 2019
Updated February 12, 2019, 10:15 PM
News about the decisions and actions coming from Mt. Athos concerning the Ukrainian schismatic church presents a confusing picture. The Sacred Community of Mt. Athos, consisting of one representative from each of the 20 ruling monasteries, met yesterday to discuss how to handle visits from representatives of the new schismatic church. The session brought no concrete decision about them or the wider issue of recognizing the new church, though certain media is attempting to present a unified picture.
Interfax-Religion reports that the Sacred Community was unable to come to a decision and that the matter is expected to be taken upon again at the next session. The issue could come to a head again well before that, as “Metropolitan” Epiphany Dumenko, the primate of the schismatic church, is reportedly planning to celebrate the feast of the Meeting of the Lord on Mt. Athos on February 15, according to Fr. Alvian Tkhelidze, a priest of the Akhtubinsk Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church with contacts on the Holy Mountain.
Further, the delegation, headed by “Bishop” Paul of the Odessa Diocese of the schismatic church, was refused a commemorative photo with the epistasia of Mt. Athos before leaving the Holy Mountain.
“The members of the epistasia, the executive body of Mt. Athos, refused to have photos taken with them,” reports a source in the Russian Church. This is also reported by the Greek site vimaorthodoxias.gr.
The epistasia is the administrative body for Mt. Athos. The 20 monasteries are divided into five groups of four which take rotating turns serving as the epistasia. The current group includes representatives from Hilandar, Xeropotamou, Grigoriou, and St. Paul’s.
The epistasia also had not given the schismatic hierarch its official permission to serve on the Mountain, which is given to canonical clergy, though he did serve at least in Pantocrator Monastery. Other monasteries—New Esphigmenou and Vatopedi—received the delegation, while others—St. Panteleimon’s, Dochariou, and Zographou—close their doors to them. Simenopetra allowed them to venerate their relics but not to enter the monastery courtyard.
On January 28, the Sacred Community voted not to send a delegation to the enthronement of schismatic Epiphany Dumenko in Kiev on February 3, with a vote of 13-5 and two monasteries not represented at that session. Thus, although the Community was able to make a majority decision, the Holy Mountain is clearly not united on this issue.
However, Romfea News, the English edition of the Greek news agency Romfea, published an article today entitled, “Mount Athos is strongly in favor of the Patriarchate on the Ukrainian issue,” which is a translation of their Greek article. Despite the strong headline, the content of the article itself cannot substantiate the claim, conveying only vague statements on supporting Constantinople and “Hellenism,” while noting that the Sacred Community, in fact, did not make a decision specifically about Ukraine.
Moreover, the English article presents its information as coming from “the members of the Holy Community of Mount Athos.” It is only in the Greek article that it is clear that all the statements contained in the article come not from the official statement, but from the commentary of one monk.
The monk also presents his statements as reflecting the unanimous attitude of the Sacred Community. According to him, the members of the Holy Synod stressed that this issue should “make them feel proud” and “that Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the primacy in Orthodoxy.” Thus, according to Romfea, the Serbian Hilandar Monastery, the Bulgarian Zographou Monastery, and the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery agreed that “Hellenism … [has] the primacy in Orthodoxy.”
In 2014, Pat. Bartholomew declared that he was strictly limiting the number of non-Greek-speaking monks allowed on the Holy Mountain. In the context of the current Ukrainian crisis, he has declared that the Slavic Orthodox are jealous of the place of the Greek people in the Orthodox Church.
Further, considering that at least 3 monasteries closed their doors to the schismatics, another allowed them only to venerate its holy relics, and at least two others—Philotheou and Karakallou—stated beforehand that they too would close their gates to them, and considering that 13 monasteries voted against sending a delegation to the enthronement in Kiev, it is untenable to report that “Mount Athos is strongly in favor” of Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.
“As Athonites, we do not accept anyone humiliating Hellenism and the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” the monk said. It is not clear what this means, considering, again, that the Sacred Community had already voted not to support the schismatic church created by Constantinople by its presence at the enthronement and that several monasteries turned them away.
Despite the monk’s strong statements, he also notes that the Sacred Community agreed that it is preferable to remain silent until the situation has matured, so as not to leave room for misinterpretations. “Besides,” he said, “we are not a Church, and we are not called upon to make a decision on recognition.”
What is most important, the monk conveyed, is that Mt. Athos not be divided and not be used as anyone’s instrument, because “Mt. Athos is for everyone.”
Confirming our article, Tsargrad has since released an article stating that the information coming from Romfea is “severely distorted.” According to Tsargrad’s source within the Sacred Community, there was a proposal to discuss the Ukrainian issue, but the representatives quickly agreed that the discussion should be postponed, and the subject was closed. Thus, no statements about siding with Constantinople or Hellenism were made.
Sergei Shumilo, director of the International Institute of the Athonite Legacy in Ukraine, reports the same—that no decision of any kind was made regarding Ukraine.
The Greek site vimaorthodoxias.gr also has a much calmer article than that on Romfea, noting that no decision was made.
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