His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the president of the Republic of Montenegro with a letter in which he dealt with the issue of the support that the president has expressed for the establishment of an autocephalous church in this country. In this letter, His Holiness expressed the Patriarchate of Constantinople's great anxiety about this matter and its denunciation of the draft law prepared by the government that requiers the nationalization of all Orthodox churches and ecclesiastical properties that date from before 1918.
He indicated as well that the above means that the state would "expropriate the churches and property of the Holy Metropolis of Montenegro, as well as of another three Eparchies of the Orthodox Church of Serbia."
His Holiness clearly and unambiguously stressed, in the same letter:
- that the Patriarchate of Constantinople and with it all the local Orthodox churces only recognize the legitimacy of the church headed by the Serbian Metropolitan Amfilohije.
- that "Church of Montenegro has never been autocephalous."
- that "today’s co-called ‘Orthodox Church of Montenegro’ under Miraš Dedeić does not belong to the Orthodox Church. Mr Dedeić is not a Bishop of the Orthodox Church, but a person defrocked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate."
- that "the sole canonical Hierarch there is our brother Metropolitan Amfilohije, who belongs to the Patriarchate of Serbia, which is recognized on a Pan-Orthodox level."
Perhaps the most striking thing in this lettter is the patriarch's statement that "we address this message to you because we do not want our beloved people in Montenegro to reach thee point of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion the Orthodox Churches, inasmuch as no single Church among them will recognize or support tha anti-canonical fabrication of Dedeić... and we are convinced that you will realize the danger constituted by Dedeić to the spiritual harmony of the people in Montenegro."
There is no doubt that the language of this letter puts the reader in a state of confusion and bewilderment, as it raises a stream of questions, among them:
- Why is there such a difference between the approach described in this letter and that followed in the Ukrainian issue, despite the precise match between these issues with regard to schism, illegitimate ordination and the threat to the people's spiritual unity?
- Why is there such a great focus in this letter on the role of the family of local Orthodox churches, while this role is ignored and denied with regard to the Ukrainian issue?
- Why did His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew not practice self-restraint in dealing with the Ukrainian schism and warn the authorities in that country that the schism places them in "of ecclesiastical isolation and severance from the body of the entire communion the Orthodox Churches"?
- Why did he not state to the president of Ukraine, as he did with the president of Montenegro, that the sole legitimate metropolitan in the Ukrainian Church is Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev?
- Will His Holiness disavow the contents of this letter in the future, just as he disavowed what he said in front of the primates of the local churches about Ukraine, with the excuse of "a change in political circumstances"?
It is difficult to answer all these question. There is, however, no doubt that the content of this letter portends a radical paradigm shift in Constantinople's attitude and it can be interpreted as true repentance for the error that was committed in Ukraine. Will the local churches receive this message, regarding it as a turning-point in Constantinople's position, and work with it to formulate a solution to the Ukrainian issue and to Constantinople's role in the orthodox world, on the basis of the positive elements in it?
Without a doubt, "hope never fails"!