The original Greek version of the Albanian Church's letter to Patriarch Bartholomew was published on the Church's official website.
Letter (on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Albanian Church) of Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, January 14, 2019
Your All-Holiness and Divine Archbishop of Constantinople—New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, most beloved brother in Christ and concelebrant of our humility, Bartholomew! Greeting Your Divine All-Holiness in the Lord, we appeal to you most sweetly!
May “Christ Who hast appeared and enlightened the world” enlighten the thoughts, decisions, and actions of all Orthodox, directing His Church, which He hath purchased with His own blood, on the path of peace in the new year.
Having gathered the Synod on January 4 of this year, we carefully read the letter of Your Divine All-Holiness from December 24, 2018 and investigated the issue of the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine with the utmost care. With sincere reverence and loving boldness, as always, we briefly summarize the judgment of the Albanian Church, especially as regards the work of the Holy Spirit.
Our criticism of the Russian Church for refusing to participate in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church on Crete is already known. We also criticized the Russian Church for its hasty decision to break Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch. In particular, in our letter to His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, we wrote: “The decisions of the hierarchs of the Russian Church cannot invalidate the action of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox churches in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is impossible for us to agree with such decisions. The Divine Eucharist, a sacrament incomprehensible in its holiness and unique in its meaning, should remain above ecclesiastical dissensions.”
The same grief and painful anxiety about preserving the unity of the Orthodox Church forces us to express our substantial doubts about recognizing in hindsight the ordinations celebrated by those who have been defrocked, excommunicated, and anathematized as valid. We are talking about the actions of Mr. Philaret Denisenko (the main instigator of the Ukrainian crisis). The circumstances of his life are widely known. He was ordained as a bishop of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1962 and was the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations and the Metropolitan of Kiev. In 1991, he began to ask for autocephaly, although not from the Ecumenical Patriarch, but from what was his Mother Church then—the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1992 he was deposed and in 1997 excommunicated and anathematized by the Russian Church—an organic part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church—and these actions were recognized by all autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
The entire time that Mr. Philaret was deposed and anathematized, he celebrated non-canonical rites which were invalid Sacraments.
Therefore, the ordinations celebrated by him are invalid, empty, and devoid of Divine grace and the action of the Holy Spirit.
Among others is the successive ordinations as deacon, priest, and finally, as bishop, of his secretary Sergei Dumenko, now Metropolitan Epiphany. Your letter from December 24 says: “We restored them in the episcopal and priestly ranks belonging to them.” However, we ask: To what extent did the ordinations celebrated by Mr. Philaret while he was deposed and anathematized retroactively receive legitimacy in the Holy Spirit and the true imprint of Apostolic succession?
It is universally recognized as a basic ecclesiological principle that the ordinations of heretics and schismatics, and especially of those who are deposed and excommunicated, as a “Sacrament,” celebrated by all the Churches, are invalid. This basic principle is inextricably bound with the Orthodox teaching on the Holy Spirit and constitutes an unshakeable foundation of the Apostolic succession of Orthodox bishops. It is our conviction that this principle cannot be ignored.
We are struggling to understand how that which is invalid and empty becomes Spirit-bearing “by economia,” how actions that are a clear blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (as, for example, the invocation of the Holy Spirit by the then-excommunicated and deposed Mr. Philaret: “The grace Divine, which always healeth that which is infirm and completeth that which is wanting, through the laying-on of hands elevateth thee... Wherefore let us pray for him, that the grace of the All-holy Spirit may come upon him”) are retroactively recognized “by economia.”
Finally, we know that the election at the so-called Unification Council of a new primate of the Church of Ukraine was the result of the insistence of the same Mr. Philaret, who, significantly, is now called in Ukraine “His Holiness the Honorary Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”
In connection with all the above, the inclusion of Metropolitan Epiphany in the Sacred Diptychs remains a question for us.
The desired reconciliation among Orthodox Ukrainians, who experienced persecution from the godless authorities in the past, has not yet been achieved. Hundreds of thousands of Orthodox faithful, under the omophorion of Metropolitan Onuphry (according to January 2018 statistics, they have 12,069 parishes, 90 bishops, 12,283 clergymen, 251 monasteries, and 4,412 monastics), refused to participate in the process of granting autocephaly; moreover, they broke Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch. In the past, the ecclesiastical fullness of those countries that were given autocephaly—Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, Albania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia—were united.
We are deeply grieved that our fears, which we have repeatedly expressed in meetings with representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (July 2018) and during our personal conversation with you on Crete (October 2018), have been justified. Instead of the reconciliation and unification of the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine, we see the danger of the destruction of the unity of the entire Orthodox world.
The assumption that the current upheaval and manifest division will not last long and that all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches will eventually approve of what has happened, from the point of view of anyone who knows the history of Church divisions and the persistence of religious fanaticism, can only be considered a baseless assessment. The reassuring hypotheses of some that this will happen… in the next century, are especially cynical. Serious wounds that have not received timely medical care are not cured with time. Usually they only spread and become even deeper.
The current situation demands new approaches and inspired ideas to ensure peace in Ukraine and especially to preserve the dangerously damaged unity of Orthodoxy. In this regard, we firmly believe that the solution to the problem is to invoke conciliarity in the Holy Spirit, as was clearly stated and emphasized at Crete: “The Orthodox Church expresses its unity and catholicity by means of a council. Conciliarity permeates its entire organization and the way it makes decisions and determines its path.”
We are not abandoning the opinion that the most valuable achievements of the Orthodox in recent decades were the pan-Orthodox Synaxes of the primates and the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church with the active participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Your Divine All-Holiness.
Thus, filled with the conciliar spirit of the Holy and Great Council, the Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church sends a fervent appeal that the Ecumenical Patriarchate, fulfilling its exclusive prerogative to coordinate the Orthodox Churches, would call a pan-Orthodox synaxis or council as soon as possible, to prevent the threatening danger of a painful schism, which could damage the credibility and value of the witness of Orthodoxy in the modern world.
From the bottom of our hearts, we pray and humbly beg that God the Trinity would guide our feet on the path of the preservation of the unity of Orthodoxy. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13).
We greet you with a holy kiss and abide with all love and the deepest reverence in Christ God, Who enlightens the world.
Tirana, January 14, 2019