Paris, February 24, 2019
The extraordinary General Assembly of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Western Europe met in Paris yesterday to decide the fate of the Archdiocese after Constantinople suddenly and unexpected revoked the 1999 tomos that established it as an exarchate in late November.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople explained that the parishes of the Russian Exarchate were to simply move under the Patriarchate’s local Greek bishop, though this directive was received unfavorably by the Exarchate’s hierarch Archbishop John of Chariopoulis and the clergy who met on December 15 and resolved to hold the General Assembly in late February to decide on an official response.
The Archdiocese was largely in favor of staying together as a group, and it was reported that they were considering joining the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, or the Romanian Patriarchate, among other options.
As Orthodoxie reports, Abp. John opened the Assembly with a sobering word on the need for unity and canonicity:
Today, we need to choose between life and death. Choosing life will mean the continuity of our Archdiocese in its own space in communion with the Church. Another option might be to say, yes, we stay in our own space, but we remain in a kind of terra incognita, and I think this is not the right path. So today, we must keep unity, that’s the most important, and choose a path of life. Therefore, I urge you, let not this meeting be a split between us, rather, let it be a sign of unity and a strong ecclesial sign.
And reporting on the results, Orthodoxie states that of the 206 voters, 191 voted against the dissolution of the Archdiocese, with only 15 voting to remain within the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its main Western European dioceses.
After seeing the negative response to Constantinople’s hasty decision, Metropolitan Emmanuel of Gaul had offered to allow the churches in France to remain together in a vicariate under his omophorion, though this option did not find favor with the clergy and faithful there.
No choice was made as to which jurisdiction to move to, and another General Assembly could be held in June to decide.
Alexander Zanemonets, a deacon of the Archdiocese, comments that “This is an official response to the Ecumenical Patriarch and in effect, a way out of subordination to it,” reports the Union of Orthodox Journalists with reference to Zanemonets’ Facebook page.
According to the deacon, many churches were waiting until after the Assembly to begin speaking with other jurisdictions, such as the Romanian Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church in America, while discussions have been held with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, though it remains unclear as an option.
More in-depth discussions have been held with the Moscow Patriarchate, which has guaranteed the preservation of the autonomous status of the Archdiocese, the independent election of bishops (including several vicar bishops), and the self-sufficiency of the parishes. The veneration of Archdiocesan saints, such as St. Maria (Skobtsova), and the New Martyrs will continue, Dcn. Zanemonets notes.
The non-participation of the Archdiocese in the break in communion between the Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates is being discussed. Correspondence with Moscow has been well documented but not yet translated into an official document that could be submitted for specific discussion and voting.
Resolving the jurisdictional question could take several months, Dcn. Zanemonets notes, adding that the decision must be made by a 2/3 majority vote.
Although no decision was taken, Abp. John voiced his firm belief that the Archdiocese needs to return to its roots in the Russian Church. In the case that Constantinople suspends Abp. John, he will begin to commemorate His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Dcn. Zanemonets says.
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