For the first time, the Constantinople Church has found itself isolated from the other autocephalous Churches, due to its anti-canonical and anti-conciliar actions in granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics.
Thus, it itself has placed under doubt its accepted coordinating role as a unifying factor and driven its hitherto proven and effective ecclesiastical politics into complete failure. It all began with the incomplete, truncated representation of the Body of Christ at the pseudo-council in Kolymvari, Crete.
In our previous articles we noted the unavoidable danger arising for the Grecophone leaders of many Local Churches (Alexandrian, Jerusalem, Cypriot, Greek, and Albanian) of falling into the temptation of following ethnophytelistic criteria, supporting the Greek first-throne Church. This would in fact mean falling into the heresy of ethnophyletism, which was condemned by the Local Synod of Constantinople in 1872 due to the Bulgarian ethnophyletistic demands of the time.
Unfortunately, such criteria dominate amongst a significant part of the Grecophone clergy, theologians, and specialists in canon law who place patriotism and ethnic origins higher than the national integration of all Orthodox into one body of the Church of Christ, Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all (Col. 3:11).1
Thus, it is clear as God’s day that the Constantinople Church’s interference in the Russian Orthodox Church’s jurisdictional territory, to which the Ukrainian Church has belonged for over three centuries since 1686 with total and uncontested recognition by all the Local Churches and even the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself (as scholarly research into the historical and sacred canonical aspect demonstrates), is anti-canonical.2 However, despite this fact, today we have a planned attempt by researchers to present a different picture that favors the supposedly existing jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch over the territory of Ukraine, and what is worse, a jurisdiction that supposedly allows it to independently grant autocephaly without the agreement of the entire body of the Church, expressed in a conciliar and pan-Orthodox manner.
This newly-proclaimed ecclesiology is trying to represent the Ecumenical Patriarch not as the “first among equals” (primus inter pares)—and thus expressing and accepting decisions on a par with others—but as the “first without equal” (primus sine paribus), ruling in the papal-monarchical manner. Its apotheosis is the Ecumenical Patriarch’s completely self-willed “restoration” of the Ukrainian schismatics without meeting the conditions stipulated by the sacred canons, namely public expression of repentance and their re-ordination or re-consecration.
In the case of the Ukrainian schismatics, even worse and unthinkable from the ecclesiological and pastoral point of view is that they are not returning to the bosom of the canonical Church that has existed for centuries, which is led by Metropolitan Onuphry, and from which they broke off. But Patriarch Bartholomew has instead created a parallel jurisdiction on the same territory and a new synod, and thus has become the initiator of a schism with painful consequences not only for Ukraine, but also for Universal Orthodoxy.
The Grecophone leaders of the Local Churches are not in agreement with the Ukrainian autocephaly
As of today, four of the five Grecophone Churches have not united with the Constantinople Church, while the fifth—the Church of Greece—is waiting and remaining silent. Furthermore, two Churches, of Cyprus and Albania, have synodically resolved to require that a Pan-Orthodox Council be convened to decide the Ukraine question.
The fullness of Orthodoxy has satisfactorily accepted this supranational position of two primates—Chrysostomos and Anastasios—who despite their meeting in Vienna at the invitation of the Constantinople Patriarch have not relinquished their stance of rejecting the anti-canonical, anti-conciliar, and unilateral granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics.
For both primates this true position is small redemption for their sincere participation in the convocation of and work in the pseudo-council on Crete, and for encouraging Patriarch Bartholomew to act like a pope; if they had not aided him on Crete to ignore and not take into consideration the objections of four autocephalous Churches that represent the majority of Orthodox believers, he would not have dared now to ignore the opinion of the Church (including the [Ukrainian Church’s] mother Church—the Russian Church), and moreover the opinion of the Local canonical [Ukrainian] Church, which did not ask for autocephaly, and make this decision in isolation, self-willfully restoring the deposed schismatics.
Neither would he have dared to assume the role of teacher, citing examples in his reply to Archbishop Anastasios of Albania from Church history such as the Melitius schism, which bear no relationship to the Ukrainian schism. Others have already pointed this out, including Archbishop Anastasios himself in his second letter in answer to Patriarch Bartholomew’s letter of criticism, which, as the former quite rightly wrote, “could have been evaluated as a monument to strengthening the Phanar’s supposed primacy in the Orthodox Church.”3
The Archbishop of Albania’s contradictory statement. He is not in agreement with the schismatics, but remains on the side of one who provoked the schism
It is worth noting that although the primate of the Albanian Church, Anastasios, had the courage to argue justly and on a high scholarly level against the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics, at the same time, in order not to look like a Russophile, accused the Russian Orthodox Church as well, satisfying in part the ethnophyletist supporters of the Phanar and, again and again, praising Patriarch Bartholomew for the “unique value of his Orthodox achievements over the past ten years, (such as) the Pan-Orthodox councils of primates and the holy and great Council of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s tireless zeal, and that of Your Divine All Holiness personally.4
He essentially devaluated his own Orthodox resistance in the matter of pseudo-autocephaly of the Ukrainian schismatics and amazed us with his explanatory declaration at the end of the second document, saying that if a schism should occur due to Patriarch Bartholomew’s erroneous actions (which he himself complimented), the Albanian Church will be on the side of those who provoked the schism. That is, the Archbishop of Albania will direct his flock into destruction, because neither heresy nor schism leads to salvation.
Amazing! And how does this jibe with the Archbishop’s erudition and intellect, as well as the painstaking missionary work that he has performed over the course of his whole life with the intention of bringing people to salvation?
Only ecumenical mingling and the equalizing of religions, heresies and schisms can explain such a contradiction.
He writes the following, word for word: “In order to avoid any possible perplexities we clarify that that in the case of a tragic departure—schism (may the Lord not allow it!), the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church will remain unchangeably with true love on the side of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”5
Just how true a love can be that leads to schism is clear from only two testimonies—one that is conciliar and has universal authority, and another that is patristic (which we will cite below).
The second canon of the Council of Antioch (which we reference) says: Whoever communes with those who are excommunicated becomes excommunicated himself; that is, the famous, “He who communes with the excommunicated is excommunicated himself.”6
The “second Paul” of golden speech, St. John Chrysostom, teaches that causing a schism in the Church is no less an evil than falling into heresy: “Dividing the Church is no less of an evil than falling into heresy.”7 Nothing angers God more than heresy and schism. Even martyric blood cannot redeem the sin of schism. Is there anything more obvious, and even worse than ethnophyletism, than joining up with a patriarch of one’s own tribe and people who provokes schisms and divisions, placing not only his own salvation under threat but also that of his flock?
How did the authoritative theologian, the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, end up falling?
As we have already noted above, out of five Grecophone leaders of corresponding five autocephalous Churches (Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Greece, and Albania), four do not accept the Ukrainian pseudo-autocephaly and do not commemorate the schismatic primate, “Metropolitan” Epiphany, in the dyptichs.
In order to resolve this problem they are requesting that a pan-Orthodox Council be called, which Patriarch Bartholomew, who claims primacy of power, refuses to do.
The position of the Greek Church up to this writing remains unknown and indefinite, and its primate Ieronymos neither makes any decision himself nor convenes the hierarchy (in order to accept a synodal resolution), but is dragging the matter out, passing it on for discussion to the synodal committees and promising that at some point—which?—he will bring it before the hierarchy at a Synod.
And because at the Synod of bishops many serious objections will naturally be raised by sound-thinking hierarchs, as is already clear from the published statements made by the Metropolitans of Piraeus and Kythera, he is probably trying to avoid an atmosphere of division and tension, leaving the matter in a suspended state and hoping that the situation might clarify itself or that something out of the ordinary might happen.
However in the ecclesiastical sense the situation is absolutely clear: Not one Local autocephalous Church has recognized the new pseudo-autocephaly in Ukraine or commemorates the schismatic primate, Epiphany, in the dyptichs.
In actual deed, Archbishop Ieronymos also declines to do this, because he doesn’t commemorate the schismatic Epiphany either. Thus, it would be completely logical and correct from the synodal and canonical point of view for the Greek Church to join the pan-Orthodox non-acceptance of this autocephaly and not leave the Ecumenical Patriarch an opportunity to progress along the path of a new schism, as happened in the past with the calendar reform.
At that time the Phanar provoked the calendar schism with the cooperation of the Church of Greece, and now it is creating the Ukrainian schism, apparently again counting on help from the Church of Greece.
Archbishop Ieronymos leaves the matter open and does not make any effort to close it, because it is obvious that he is under pressure from political, governmental, geopolitical and ecclesiastical centers that are cultivating Russophobia and heating up Greek ethnophyletism in their own interests.
And because in theological and ecclesiastical circles, especially amongst the hierarchs, there is not likely to be found a theologically educated bishop who enjoys authority and recognition who would prepare a planned and practically guaranteed acceptance of the pseudo-autocephaly of Ukrainian schismatics, this rather unpleasant, anti-canonical and anti-synodal role was assumed (consciously or unconsciously) by Metropolitan Heirotheos (Vlachos), formerly well known for his anti-ecumenism and extensive literary activity against heresies. The antichristian powers know very well how to neutralize their opponents and lead even the elect into error.
We truly did not believe our eyes, and our mind was amazed and shocked when we read the official epistle that the Metropolitan sent on March 30 of this year to the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, in which as a member of the hierarchy of the Greek Church he expresses his opinion on the Church problem in Ukraine.
In the first three sections he expands on:
a) a brief history of autocephaly and the statuses of a patriarchate,
b) patriarchal and synodal tomoses on the presentation of autocephaly and statuses of a patriarchate,
c) a discussion of the method of pronouncing one or another Church autocephalous. He supposes that in these sections he placed a theoretical, theological, historical and sacred canonical foundation for the conclusions contained in the following section:
d) discussion of the Ukrainian question. In this section, repeating in total the positions and claims of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and possibly also of Archbishop Ieronymos and all the other Russophobic political and geopolitical powers, he comes to a completely unfounded and unacceptable conclusion, formulating it in the following way, word for word: “The Greek Church cannot reject the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning his granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine, but it should now accept this decision and abide in expectation of the time when it can express its common opinion and judgment, when an Ecumenical Council is convened. Then it will be discussed not only how the tomos was granted to Ukraine, but also [how it was granted] to the rest of the Churches. Non-acceptance of the way the patriarchal tomos grants Ukraine’s autocephaly places under doubt the autocephaly of eight existing autocephalous Churches, including the autocephaly of the Greek Church—because these autocephalies were granted only by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”8
We will not spend time right now criticizing the metropolitan’s position. No few researchers have already done this quite successfully. Many have justly expressed bitterness, anger, disappointment, and indignation concerning his connections with the political and ecclesiastical establishment and especially regarding the fact that he is directing the Greek Church into the theological line of accepting this patriarchal tyranny in granting autocephaly to the Ukrainian schismatics.
Even the canon law expert A. Vavouskos (his co-fighter and adherent in his support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s schismatic actions), noted how Met. Hierotheos came to these conclusions without a deep understanding of the sources and bibliography.9
We will only note that the Metropolitan of Navpaktos is hiding his head in the sand, and refusing to see and understand the enormously significant fact that autocephaly is being granted not to the canonical Ukrainian Church, but to two groups of schismatics, who have not publicly repented and expressed their desire to return to the bosom of the canonical Church headed by Metropolitan Onuphry.
All the other autocephalous Churches have decisively underscored the schismatic character of the new pseudo-autocephalous church as the main hindrance to its acceptance and consider that the schism in the Ukraine continues, because the Church, having pronounced deposition and excommunication, did not cancel [its accusation of schism] after public repentance, inasmuch as Metropolitan Hierotheos in his letter does not at all discuss the ecclesiological problem of schism. The word “schism” is not in his text; it has disappeared.
It is just as if we were talking about granting autocephaly to the canonical Church of Ukraine, were only considering the question of whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate had the right to grant autocephaly, and historical and sacred canonical testimony needs to be cited in connection with that.
However, not in a single instance of granting autocephaly in a country, in an ecclesiastical sphere by which this autocephaly is granted, have there ever been both canonical and schismatic churches [at one and the same time].
Autocephaly was always requested and received by only one Church, which represented all the faithful in that country; or, if that Church had previously fallen into schism it proclaimed its repentance and returned to the bosom of the canonical Church, and then received autocephaly. In Ukraine, however, the only canonical Church that has been recognized for centuries by all the other autocephalous Churches has not, as of the present, asked for autocephaly.
Now, on the same territory, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has created a second, parallel local church with a separate synod, which is not recognized by the canonical Church—that is, its state of schism has been ratified by patriarchal bulla.
How will two parallel church jurisdictions exist on one and the same territory? We have been trying for so many years to solve the problem of multiple jurisdictions in one territory within the Orthodox diaspora, and now we are creating [the same problem] within autocephalous Churches without any sort of theological and sacred canonical basis.
We will cite several testimonies showing that the Ukrainian schism, willfully and anti-canonically legalized, is one of the main reasons why all the autocephalous Churches have rejected this autocephaly (while the Metropolitan of Navpaktos groundlessly ignores this).
The canonical Church, headed by Metropolitan Onuphry, says among other things in its latest synodal decision that “autocephaly is granted only by one Church within the boundaries of one specific nation, but in no way to a part that has separated itself from the body of the Church.”10
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania in his first epistle to Patriarch Bartholomew shows that the millions of the faithful under the headship of Metropolitan Onuphry have refused to participate in the process of granting autocephaly, “while as in the past the ecclesiastical fullness of those countries (Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, Albania, Czechia, and Slovakia), to whom autocephaly has been granted, have expressed unanimity.”11
In the epistle sent by the Serbian Orthodox Church to the Ecumenical Patriarch on February 6, 2019, there is a more stern tone—first of all, it criticizes the Phanar’s anti-canonical interference in the canonical jurisdiction of the Holy Russian Church, and also adds the following: “We do not recognize as the 'autocephalous church of Ukraine' the 'confederation' of schismatic offshoots in Ukraine that was pronounced autocephalous without canonical grounds, and in reality forcibly created (even now already mutually conflicting amongst themselves and unrestrainedly heading towards division). The schismatics have remained schismatics. Once a schismatic, always a schismatic, with the exception of those cases of sincere return (to the bosom of the canonical Church) and deep repentance. The only Church we know and recognize is the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church that has as its head His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine.12
Likewise two distinguished hierarchs—Niceforos of Kykkos, a metropolitan of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, and Irinej of Baska, a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church—write in this regard the following:
Metropolitan of Kykkos: This action, in my humble opinion, is considered anti-canonical, because according to the sacred canons, any punishment (including the above-mentioned deposition and excommunication) is revoked by the same Body that invoked it—of course under the condition of the condemned party’s prior repentance. It would follow that only the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate, which made the decision to depose and excommunicate, has the nomocanonical jurisdiction to restore and return the condemned to the bosom of the Orthodox Church. Another, in my opinion, very serious error of the Ecumenical Patriarch consists in his contemptuous disregard for his Beatitude Onuphry, the metropolitan of the only generally recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, as well as his recognition of Epiphany, who was never canonically consecrated—or ordained—as the metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine and granting to him a Synodal tomos of autocephaly during concelebration with him.”13
The bishop of Baska also writes: “Along with this, unacceptable is the violation of sacred canonical principles, which are obligatory to all, and which do not allow for communion with the excommunicated (that is, with those who have deprived themselves of grace by their own will). It is unthinkable and unacceptable to revoke the essential difference between the Church and schism, between the lawful successors to the holy apostles and the “self-ordained” or “self-proclaimed”.14
Unfortunately, in opposing the sacred canons, the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos proposes that the Greek Orthodox Church enter into communion with excommunicated Ukrainian schismatics and cancel the difference between Church and schism.
That is, until the convening of an Ecumenical Council, which in his opinion will make a judgment as to whether or not it was correct to grant autocephaly to schismatics, we will become schismatics ourselves, and thus place our own salvation and the salvation of our entire flock under threat.
Isn’t this pastoral and soteriological concern absolutely timely? Aren’t the bitterness, disappointment, and worry about this inexplicable—or explicable—fall of the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos quite justified?